Saturday, 8 July 2017

The mother I hated and loved

When I wake in the white room in the tall North London house, I often feel joy. But then disillusion comes and I am reluctant to get up. Then I may be angry, then anxious about the guilt the anger has created. But I manage to calm down because of my devotion to ease.

After a quick pee, I lie long on the untidy white sheet as the sun streams in over the confined view of back gardens and dark houses. I have no commitments in the day that will ensue. Everything it will hold is designed to take as much out of the city as I can get and give back only what I choose.

The room is quiet around me in the morning. In the first two months I was here, the only sounds were the birds at their song. But then the series of disasters and atrocities struck London in the hot time, and for a while there were endless sirens and helicopters. But it is a couple of weeks since the last shocking event, the attack at Finsbury Park, and that only killed one elderly Muslim. It was a grotesque anticlimax.

I prepare to hear the news on my digital radio at six-thirty. I always expect another disaster. I hope for one. But now the news is all of meeting standards, righting wrongs and challenging abuses. There are a few more fires and moped attacks.

Still I lie long. Radio Three resumes its music, but so often I prefer silence now. I switch the radio off and on periodically to check the passing minutes. It is many years since I have worn a watch. I have no mobile phone.

The strange mixed-race woman who lives next door goes out of her room. I stay very quiet as she turns the keys in her locks, probably strews a wet wipe near our joint doors, and goes down the stairs. What a relief to be free of her unwanted presence! Greater peace descends on me as some music I love, perhaps Chopin's Fourth Ballade, surges towards a climax on the headphones.

But soon the woman is back. She has only gone out for her first smoke of the day. Once again I lie as quiet as I can, but the music is slightly spoiled.

Soon after this I am asleep again. When I awake it is bright morning. This is summer. Now is the time to excrete. It gives great satisfaction and I return to the bed. I check the time again. It is after eight o'clock and I am moving towards breakfast. But not yet. I think more thoughts of the past, and I speak out loud, "You wanted to give a party," I say. "You gave your party twice at the Feel-Good Factory, do you remember?"

After a little while I get up and do a little dance around the room. Then back to the bed. Then finally to my little cubbyhole of a bathroom for the morning ablutions and the cleaning of my teeth.

When I put my clothes on, the process is relatively quick. The clothes are ready from the latest wash in the packed chest of drawers. They are all creased, but who cares? I have never prided myself on sartorial elegance. I have no important appointments.

Then I put my passport and the wallet with my more useless cards in my left pocket, and I put the smart new purse and the active cards in my right. My 60-plus Oyster Card is now held by a colourful little wallet of its own, and that too goes to the right.

I pack a plastic bag with my current diary, an older diary to remind me of the past, the non-fiction book I have chosen for perusal this morning, and a newspaper or two. Perhaps I also put in a hat or a cap. Then, clutching my keys, I  descend the four flights of steps from the second floor to the kitchen.

This room is quiet before nine o'clock. The other three occupants of the house have not yet emerged at this hour (the fourth one, the vaguely Arab woman, only stayed one night, the night of the Grenfell Tower fire).

The black man will be in the television room later, the mixed-race woman in the kitchen, I tend to wander about the garden, and the very thin, elderly Cypriot, to whom they bring food, hardly ever leaves his room. We all have our own cupboards and fridges in the kitchen. There are five black chairs around the dark brown kitchen table, but never once has more than one person sat down at it. We are all mental health cases enjoying supported housing.

I go slowly now to assemble the materials for my breakfast. Perhaps I eat a banana first, walking around the bleak garden. Then cornflakes from the food bank and bread, butter and jam.

It is nine o'clock or thereabouts. I push open the two heavy doors and pass with a stumble into the street. My steps turn rightwards to the supermarket for an inspection of the morning papers with the black guard watching. Then to the Turkish cafe until the library opens for the Internet. The rendezvous with my elderly cantankerous friend will follow and the pop-ins I am taking him to. The evening is spent listening to music in my room. Occasionally I go out to the Irish pub for one drink to go on reading David Copperfield.

My life is like a pumped-up tyre quickly let down again by alienation. I suppose it's OK. But what has brought me to this comfortable if slightly malevolent impasse, now that I am almost sixty-two? Why, I believe it was my mother. Her influence, I mean.

How shall I describe her? How shall I tell her story? And why did I start by painting a morning picture of the son she made?

I shall tell you. It is because this picture is of the greatest peace and rest a human being can enjoy, and that was what she gave me, in spades, until I was about ten. And she also gave me her overwhelming love, which still helps me to balance my detachment from the world, and my hatred of it, and gives me a strong urge to dash to the aid of any stranger I sense to be vulnerable.

And I help others because she once so protected and loved me. I was vulnerable and she always came to my aid, until the time came when her help could no longer help me. That happened when I was ten, and I was finally stopped from going into her bed in the morning, once the hated figure of Arthur Ernest Hills was out of it. What bliss it had been to lie in her arms! How much I did not want to go to school!

But in the end I was ejected from her bed, and my oedipal Eden was over. Up to this point I had been a normal little boy. From then on I began to grow fat, incompetent and unmanly. She still loved me, but she was deeply alone, and had grown to hate Arthur Ernest Hills.

When I came home from the school where I myself was isolated, she always had three things waiting for me: a bar of chocolate, a glass of orange juice and a bag of crisps. And supper soon followed. And perhaps there would be a night-time snack before I went to bed, and after I had come home from the library, which I visited every evening, because I had no friends.

And so I began to know that the mother I loved was doing me harm and the hatred began to grow which would eventually overwhelm the love. And the contempt.

For my mother was a funny woman. She came basically from Portugal, although I always knew vaguely that there was some sort of strange connection with Italy. And she was absolutely the caricature of a Neapolitan mamma, with all the passion, violence and unreason that implies. I swear that I remember her from my childhood once literally biting the carpet in her rage. But how tender she was if I had ever hurt my knee when I was playing. How passionately she kissed it better. And then she would be off into the next raving scene.

And how ridiculous she could be. I remember, when Arthur Ernest Hills had left us, and the big policeman Maurice had taken his place, how she used to shout, "The neighbours, they know nothing! They do not hear! They do not know!" This was so clearly the total reverse of the truth that I think I laughed at her to her face.  I did this increasingly often as I grew up. I used to mock her accent and call her strange names like "Goatie", which she particularly hated.

When I went to Oxford at the age of eighteen, she and Maurice drove me to my college, Hertford, from our home at Crawley in Sussex. Then they pointedly just left me there with hardly a word. Perhaps they felt out of place in such an environment. They were working-class people. But I think the hatred between me and my mother was well under way by then.

But those two years before I went to university, when I was doing my "A"-levels, were among the happiest of my life. It was a while between Arthur vanishing and the appearance of Maurice, and anyway the latter never moved into the house fully, having his own accommodation with his own children. And in my memory he is strangely blotted out.

I would come home directly from my new Protestant school, where I was as unpopular and brilliant as ever, and my mother would appear from her day-time job, give me a quick but delicious dinner, and depart for the evening restaurant where she worked. When she had gone, I would put classical music on the record-player, sit down at the cleared table, and do the thorough study for my "A"-levels which would redeem all the inadequacies of my teachers. I did not tend to go to the library so much as in earlier years. I hated the loneliness of that place now. Now my reading was for a purpose, not just to assuage my feelings.

These days I had a few friends, not many. Sometimes I went to see them, but more often I went for a long walk along Southgate Avenue towards the centre of town, singing and talking to myself. Occasionally the police picked me up as I walked, but after some time they learned to leave me alone. Those walks could be ecstatic. I didn't want to meet anyone. If I did, it would be disappointing. And my thoughts and songs gave me joy.

But best of all was when I had come home, and then my mother returned, and we could talk a little together before both going to bed. Those moments of intimacy and friendship I shall never forget. I have had no other true friend, no other lover, before or since.

For my earlier childhood with her had been disturbed. I was born in London, but when I was less than one year old we moved out to the new town of Crawley in Sussex, where, quite soon, my real father, a German passing under Polish identity whose real name I do not know, left us, and Arthur Ernest Hills, who I believe was my father's twin brother, my uncle, took his place. My relations with this Arthur Ernest Hills were always poor and, although I believed him to be my father, from an early age I was possessed with the sense that Crawley was not really my home, that I was among people who were not mine.

We often used to visit London to see our friends the Mills family, who lived in Wood Green. The periodic journeys we made to Arthur and Leonor and their children were one of the highlights in my childhood. We would set out in the earlier morning to reach Leonor's house just before lunchtime.

Our morning picnic was on Streatham Common. That was quite nice, but it was soon followed by the trauma of going through Brixton and the explosion of Arthur Ernest Hills' hatred against the blacks. Then, as we passed Oval and Kennington he would calm down, and Central London was a blank that we hurried through. For when we turned into the Caledonian Road we would be going into our own territory, the region of north London, the area where I had been born.

I would be deeply moved when we passed the house where I had lived when I was a baby, 19 Hornsey Rise, N19. Soon afterwards we would sweep up the hill to Alexandra Palace and the view from there never failed to rouse my deepest ecstasy. Then we descended to Wood Green and the welcoming people that awaited us. I gained a sense of the magnificence and yet the familiarity of London from those outward journeys.

But the inward journey was usually via Finsbury Park and my mother used to tell me that in the huge, dark houses there the "papoes", or "bogies", lived. That frightened me a lot. And how tired I became when we finally reached some distant suburb of south London such as Norbury, and then I gained the feeling of how alien and horrible London was, and again I have never lost this feeling.

I live near quite Finsbury Park now, and sure enough I have experienced trouble there. I tend to stay slightly away from that dismal park and its environs. I have spent half my life in London and half elsewhere, and it is half my home and half an alien place, and I will never resolve this.

The other periodic break from Crawley was our annual (sometimes bi-annual) journey abroad, usually in August, and usually to Portugal. This, like the journey past Hornsey Rise, was another pilgrimage to where I might really come from. For just as Crawley was not my home, neither was England. I became so exited always that we were going to Portugal. I used to annoy the teachers at school by how I was endlessly counting the days. But when I arrived in Portugal I did not achieve the happiness I sought.

The man who was with us, Arthur Ernest Hills, ostensibly an Englishman, originally a German, was not a person not to be trusted. Certainly I had no trust in him. But I had no suspicion of his German origins. Even less did I suspect that my mother was not totally from Portugal.

Because of the challenge to her nationality, she was deeply committed to that small country. And she made me a Portuguese patriot too. I came to view Portugal as my only country, in defiance of the facts as I then knew them, and even more contrary to what I have learnt in later years. I remember that, in 1966, during the World Cup, I  longed for the Portuguese team to beat England, and that after the quarter-final where Nobby Stiles persistently marked Eusébio I walked down alone from our house to the corner of Brighton Road and Southgate Avenue in an effort to contain my passionate grief. My loathing for England, which goes with a strange love as well, comes from that time.

And even now, despite the generally easy if empty time I have passed in England, and the huge difficulties and endless negativity I have always experienced in Portugal, and my own considerable learned contempt and hatred for that country, I shake inwardly when I see Portugal slighted, ignored or insulted. And I have always searched obsessively in books on general subjects for mentions of my mother's country. If there are none, I will refuse to buy that book. And a book that concerns England, of which there are so many, I may buy or I may not. But probably not.

I am back now in the very streets where I was born. It moves me deeply to live in those regions of Holloway Road, Hornsey Road and Hornsey Rise near the Whittington Hospital. Some will say that my life has come full circle, that I must stay for ever now. Well, I will certainly stay a while. But who knows what will happen then? The future is uncertain, perhaps dangerous, and Jews such as myself have always cultivated an alternative future in time of need.

Nevertheless, I want to die in the place where I was born.

I think I had better begin to talk now about what exactly was my mother's connection with Portugal, and the fact that her mother, who was not married to her father, and who was not the mother of her five sisters, seems to have come from Naples, or at least from a place where they spoke Neapolitan Italian, and to have been a Jewess, so that my mother was also a Jewess, and I am a Jew.

How shall I approach this question? Well, I came to the knowledge about Ana (or possibly Mariana) das Meias, "Ana of the Stockings" over many and tortuous years, and only recently did I know for certain that I she was my grandmother, So I think I will tell the whole thing more or less chronologically. I do not know how long it will take me to write this post. My relationship with my mother was overwhelmingly the most important of my life and it ended badly. I feel a deep reluctance to face this material. Perhaps I will take several years to write the eighteenth post of my blog. And perhaps it will be as well.

I will begin at a slight angle. When I was a child my mother often used to mention a woman who had been around in my childhood who was called Dona Ana (which in Italian was would be Donna Anna). I never knew exactly who this lady had been, but she was somebody quite important, and my mother particularly used to mention some words she had often said to me.

These were in Italian, and I will quote them in that language, and give the English translation. They were, "Mange, mange, bambino, tu sei si piccolino, e tua mamma e matta." In English, this is, "Go on eating, go on eating, little baby, you are so very small and your mother is mad."

The final word "matta" (which would be "mata" in Portuguese) is a pun between the two languages. In Italian, it means a madwoman, and also the joker in a pack of cards. In Portuguese, it would be "killed" or "dead". Ana das Meias surely enjoyed the joke.

It was to be many, many years after my childhood that I heard of Dona Ana again.

Now to the basic facts about my mother. She was born, according to her birth certificate and her own unvarying account, on 7th September, 1923 at the fairly substantial farm her father owned in the Portuguese countryside. This was the "Quinta Nova" (the "new farm"), just outside the village of Pedra Amassada ("Worn-down stone"), which is in the parish of Santo Isidoro, in the local authority district of Mafra, just slightly to the north-east of the windswept seaside resort of Ericeira, which faces the Atlantic Ocean. These places are in the Portuguese region of Estremadura, which includes Lisbon, the capital city, which lies about forty kilometres to the south-east.

The name of my mother's father was officially Cesário dos Reis, which translates into English as  "Caesar Kings". On our family grave his first name is spelt Sesário, and on the birth certificate of his daughter Eva his name is given as José dos Reis. He was also sometimes known simply as Césario José, and colloquially as "Zé Rito", which is a pun on "Zé Rico", or "Rich José". Obviously this implies that his given name really was José and not Cesário.

And my mother very often told me in my childhood that before being known as Reis her father had had another surname. But she said even more often that he had been given the surname Reis. which means "kings", because he had been born on January 6th, the "Dia de Reis", the feast of the kings, the Epiphany. Obviously the two stories are not compatible, although I never thought of this when I was a child.

Also, while the Dia de Reis is widely celebrated in Spain, it is generally ignored in Portugal, for the very reason that it is a feast associated with Spain. Perhaps this was less so in the nineteenth century (my grandfather was born, according to the record, in 1886), but even so it seems strange that a baby in Portugal should be deliberately named to celebrate a feast associated with Spain. It goes against the character of the country. It sounds like a story invented to explain the surname.

Anyway, mystery surrounds this simple person as regards his origins.

Although he owned his own farm he also worked in hard times as a "jornaleiro", a hired labourer by the day on the land of others. He was, according to those who knew him, a very seasoned agriculturalist, and a decent if slightly timid man, and he used the "barrete", the cap which is typical of the peasants of the "saloio" region. The name "saloio" was given traditionally to the population of the region north of Lisbon which supplied its needs through market gardens, and the saloios were traditionally renowned for a strange mixture of cunning and stupidity. My mother used to flinch when described as a "saloia".

Cesário dos Reis was married to a woman called Marcelina de Jesus, who came from a slightly higher social class than himself, being the daughter of a small pottery owner. By her he was reputed to have had twelve children, eleven daughters and a son, of whom six, including the son, died in infancy, and six daughters survived. 

These were, in order of age: Maria Marcelina (known simply as Maria, being the eldest daughter); Maria da Conceição (known as Conceicão); my mother, Maria José (who, because her second given name was masculine, was always known by both her Christian names); Maria Augusta (known as Augusta); Eva, my one surviving aunt (who has no other given name, because the name Eva cannot be combined with that of the Virgin); and Maria do Rosário (the most beautiful, the one who died first, the one I never knew, Rosária).

Marcelina de Jesus, whom I can just about remember from my childhood, was able to read and write, which set her a little apart in that countryside. But she became downtrodden by so much child-bearing, and there is a picture of her, which I still possess, humbly holding the reins of a donkey on which my grandfather, in his peasant cap, sits proudly astride. In later life she was exceptionally devout. One memory of my childhood is of being alone with her at the shrine of Fatima and of her wishing to hear endless Masses end to end, with me at her side, very small, and increasingly tried, thirsty and desperate.

My mother had little feeling for her. When she died, a few years after her husband, in 1965, and we heard the news in our house in Crawley, there was absolutely no question that my mother would go out to attend her funeral. The whole thing seemed to be a matter of indifference to her. Perhaps I should have begun to suspect much soooner than I did that Marcelina de Jesus was not my grandmother.

But Mum was deeply attached to her father, and when he died, in 1961, I believe she did go out, though, since I was only about five or six years old at the time, I have no specific memories of it. And when my mother's youngest sister Rosária died on Christmas Day 1968, in faraway Mozambique, and the news reached us almost immediately by telegram, my mother went into such a storm of grief that I have never forgotten it to this day.

Mum was a tomboy. She was always off from the house climbing trees and getting into mischief. Her father teased her and beat her, but she was his favourite. She had a spirit and devilry, one might almost say a chivalry, that none of the other sisters had. Her father had a rhyme about her, the latter half of which I can remember and will translate into English: "You only need a saddle, you're already a donkey." None of the other sisters had their own rhyme.

Her relations with all of them were to be very mixed, and often quite hostile. Particularly complex was her relationship with Conceição, who was the next above her in age. Tia Conceição was a slightly stupid and very stubborn woman who had a clinging need for affection and became unpleasant when she did not receive it. Once, when my mother was three years old, she was very thirsty and Conceição promised to give her water. But what she gave her was pee. My mother never forgot this incident and it poisoned relations between these two sisters for the rest of their lives.

My mother intermittently told me scattered stories about her childhood. When she was four years old she was sent alone to tend the bullocks in the pasture. When she was nine she was sent away to relations to work. She was not sent to school, which was a pity, because she was very intelligent. In later years she used often to say something to me that tore at my heart, "I was born to learn but never taught."

In bad times, when the family was hungry and had no bread, it used to be my mother who was sent to the neighbours to beg, because of her winning ways.

The greatest trauma that hit the family was often recalled by my mother. Again, I will approach this at a slight angle. After seven (or, according to my mother, eight) daughters had been born, without a son intervening, the final daughter in the row was required by custom to be called Eva, so that she should not turn out to be a witch. This Eva, though, as it happens, she seems to me the nearest of my aunts to being a witch, is now an immensely fat, eccentric and talkative woman in her later eighties. She has become slightly malevolent, which she was not before, because she is a Jehovah's Witness. But she retains a strange soft spot for me, though, and she is my godmother.

Finally - after Eva, it must have been - a son, was born. The whole family rejoiced. But quickly this boy fell ill. My grandfather had to go to Mafra to fetch the nearest doctor. This was a distance of about six miles. My mother could never remember whether her father had a donkey at the time or whether he had to walk. Anyway, he went as fast as he could, but when he was coming back from Mafra with the doctor, the boy was already dead.

Every so often the whole family went to sell their wares to the fair at Malveira. I am not sure of the distance, but perhaps it is between twelve and fifteen miles. They often travelled together all night, ready to begin selling early in the morning. They would take it in turns to ride on the one donkey.

When I heard these stories from my mother in childhood, I was filled with a sense of belonging to a suffering and heroic people, and this feeling can never entirely leave me.

As I mentioned previously, my mother often told me that, when she was nine, she was sent away to relations to work, and also that at the age of sixteen or seventeen she was already working at a series of hotels in Lisbon. She reached the age of 16 in 1939, almost exactly at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. There are no documents surviving which refer to her, except her birth certificate, which date from before 1946.

I once had an official Portuguese work record for her, a charming little document, which showed which hotels she worked at between 1946 and 1953, so it is absolutely certain that she was living in Lisbon at that time. I lost this work record, with many other items, during a theft of my suitcases in Barcelona in 2012. The title page of the document, with her picture, survives in a tattered photocopy. And there are also a few other photographs of her when she was very young, including a cheeky-looking one, in which she looks very dark and elfin-like, which she once told me had been taken when she was about sixteen.

During the time in the late 1940s when my mother worked in three smart hotels in or around the Avenida da Liberdade, Lisbon's central avenue, she also lived close nearby, sharing accommodation with her younger sister Augusta on the third floor of a building where the Rua Alexandre Herculano meets the Avenida da Liberdade, and if my aunt Eva is right in remembering that it was on the left-hand side as you descend from the Rato to the Avenida, then this building is long gone.

Anyway, this Augusta was the most sophisticated and wordly-wise of the sisters and in some ways a sympathetic person because of this, but she was very cold. She was later a settler in Mozambique and worked as a super-fast telephonist in the Hotel Polana, which was the best hotel in what was then Lourenço Marques, so her English was good. She was to be of much more help to me when the crisis of my mother's life came than the primitive and ambiguous Eva, although I did not necessarily like her better. She died in May 2007, just before she was due to give evidence in the court case where I was trying to win my mother's house back. It seems typical of her that she never made it.

I will just mention briefly the sister whom I have not so far described, the eldest, Maria. It was she who remained in the countryside when all the other sisters eventually came to Lisbon and then sometimes went abroad. She was a typically dour Portuguese peasant woman with a husband who beat her and many children. My mother's relations with this sister were always especially poor and, when I was a child, she used to tell me that the other five did not really regard Maria as a true sister of theirs. I now believe that this strange statement reflected the fact that it was my mother who was the real outsider. 

Anyway, back to the late 1940s, and the time when my mother and her half-sister Augusta were sharing a flat in the fashionable Rua Alexandre Herculano, on the top floor of a building that abutted on the Avenida, on the left-hand side as one descends from the Rato. This building is no longer there, and a modern hotel stands on its place, but I used quite often to stand where the place had been and look upwards with emotions that I did not quite know, because in many ways, although I loved her, I did not know my mother, and she gave me an edited version of what had happened in her life, to say the least, so that my feelings about things associated with her partake of a sense of dislocation.

But I believe those were rather beautiful times for my mother in the late 1940s, perhaps the happiest time of her life.  She used to tell me how fashionable a city Lisbon had become in the post-war era. Many cruise liners called there and the regular Royal Mail boats still plied between England and Portugal. Many famous personalities stayed at the hotels where she worked as a chambermaid.

She recalled meeting General Omar Bradley and more particularly the great pianist Artur Rubinstein. She had a hairbrush which she said was his and which he had given her, but it did not have his name on it. In later life she tried to get me to sell it for a large sum and could not make her understand that I could not prove it had once belonged to Artur Rubinstein and that therefore it was impossible to sell. And at a certain point I lost the useless brush, which gave her sorrow.

Better to contemplate her in the days she knew Rubinstein, and when she used to go in the warm evenings with Augusta to the Feira Popular, "the People's Fair", where the orchestra of Belo Marques used to play, and the young couples who might or might not marry, danced until night fell, and other pleasures, despite the jealous brothers and hideous female chaperones, who attended, sometimes supervened.

As they evidently did in the case of Augusta. My mother told me once, in that sudden, brutally frank way she sometimes had, that she had arranged an abortion for her younger sister during this period. I don't think Augusta ever quite forgave her. She tried to quite a considerable extent to help her during her last illness, but with not a penny of money, although my Mum's funds were locked up in various accounts, I clearly had little money, and Augusta was a wealthy woman. I cannot help remembering this aunt with dislike because of her meanness, although we often got on well when we were together.

But it seems the sexual activity was not all on Augusta's part. My aunt Eva said fairly recently that my mother had become pregnant many times in her youth but it always ended in abortion. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, who quite strongly dislikes Eva, said indignantly this was a lie, and it is true that Eva is a great liar. I spend quite a lot of time hoping for her death as well. But even the woman in the centre of Lisbon seemed to imply that my mother had enjoyed relations with men, and a relation by marriage of ours in the country also stated it in his brutal way.

My mother always said that her first experience of sex had been with her husband, Arthur Ernest Hills, and had been disappointing. I put this detail in a story which some people have admired and which was published in Quadrant, the Australian intellectual monthly.. My aunt Augusta, however, who read the story without much enjoyment, although she acknowledged it was well-written, said disparagingly that it was very simple. Les Murray, my editor at Quadrant, liked it though. Perhaps it is good as fiction, despite Aunt Augusta's opinion. I am sure now, however, that it holds only a certain truth about my mother's life.

For what happened during those years I am largely dependent on what she told me, and some stories were so persistent that they must be substantially true. She used often to tell with great wistfulness of a young man she had loved, a talented pianist. I had at various times two separate versions of the same photo of him, sitting in profile at the piano, at a moment when he is not playing it. 

But I lost both these photos at different times and perhaps this image of him is gone for ever. Or I might find one of them again, in the unexpected way items sometimes turn up for me. Anyway, I remember the young pianist's face well, however, and would know it if I ever saw it again. He was very much a Latin-lover type, handsome in his way,  although such looks do not appeal to me. I thought he looked evil.

My mother described the circumstances in which she knew him in quite some detail to me, so much so that I believe these details were written on her heart and cannot be false. She also said she had never had sex with him. This I do not believe.

She worked for his rich family, and particularly came to the attention of his aunt, who did not like her and broke up their romance. The aunt had an "atelier", according to my mother´s story, a fashion shop for rich Lisboetas, but the son was intended for the family's garage, which was in the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, a street close to the central avenue but, because it was narrow and quite old, considerably more down-market. There were a number of garages in this street which had been established from early in the twentieth century.

Mum also told me that, twenty-five years after she had known him, on a solitary visit that she paid to Lisbon one summer, she rang him up at the garage, arranged to meet him at the cafe they had always used, the Smarta, in the Rua da Santa Marta, which runs at right angles to the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio. She went for a drive with him in his car, but was shocked by how much he had changed, and repelled when he made her a physical proposal. when they stopped in the Monsanto Forest. They never saw each other again.

Now how much do I believe all these details? Well, I believe them to form a complex, composite story, almost all the details of which are individually true, but which concern two different men.

I have worked this out by thinking about the story for many years, and I will explain my chain of reasoning now. Since the love for the pianist was the love of my mother's life, it was likely to be a first love. It would not naturally have come after the many relationships with men that my mother is alleged, I believe truly, to have had. This would therefore most likely place it soon after my mother's arrival in Lisbon, and I know this to have taken place around 1939 or 1940, when she was sixteen or seventeen.

Now my mother was unvarying in her account that it was twenty-five years after she had known him that she rang the man up. When I was a child she was always with us, and between 1971 and 1973 she was involved in the complex divorce and maintenance proceedings against Arthur Ernest Hills, and during this period she also took up with the policeman Maurice. Her relationship with him ended, as far as I can remember, about a year after I went to Oxford in October 1973. Now in the summers of 1974, 1975 and 1976 I hardly went home from Oxford. It believe it is the second of these summers, the second one that I did not go home, and the first after Maurice left her, the summer of 1975, that is the most  likely date for my mother's attempt to satisfy her lifelong quest for romance by looking up the old amour.

And as it happens, I have a letter in my possession from Arthur Ernest Hills, dated 17th August 1975, which says that my mother is in northern Portugal on that date, but that she is travelling down to Lisbon, and has a flight home from there to England on 27th August. This makes it seem almost certain to me that somewhere in those days was the meeting with the man of the garage.

This therefore places the date of this romance in about 1950, or perhaps very early in 1951, which was the period when my mother was involved in her work at the series of hotels which I used to have documented in her work register. She could therefore not have been working in the private house of a family at this date. And since the hotels were almost all near the Avenida, this makes an encounter with a man who ran a garage in the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio in 1950 very likely, because there is absolute physical proximity.

I am pretty sure that it was the second man who was involved with the garage. Would a delicate young pianist, impeccably romantic, be intended by his family for a garage? Would such a slim, effeminate-looking aesthete, many years later, make a gross physical proposal in the car he was proudly driving? And would a snobby aunt, who ran a fashionable couturier establishment in the French style, want her nephew to be involved with the motor industry?

I also asked my aunt Eva - whom I did not tell about my theory that there might be two men involved - about exactly at what stage of my mother's career she had loved the pianist. She said it had been considerably before the period when she had worked at the series of hotels, which would place it well before 1946, when the record of those employments began. Once again, it might situate the relationship at about 1940, or even 1939.

There is another, slightly strange, clue. When I was writing the story about her, which is called "Meeting and Parting" (she wanted to be called Mirabelle in it, but I did not gratify this wish), I asked my mother for more details about her life and, especially, about this romance, to flesh out the story. She was rather reluctant to tell me much, but finally, almost in desperation, said that she used to meet the handsome pianist at a cafe called Affari.

This is of course an Italian name for a café, and would not be likely to serve as the name of a café in Portugal. At one point I went to the Lisbon City Archives to check where this cafe might have been. But it was clear from their exhaustive record of cafes that no such establishment had ever existed there.

This makes it seem likely that the romance took place entirely in Italy, before my mother arrived in Lisbon, perhaps when she was sixteen, the period of the elfin-like photograph, just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The picture of a young pianist to swoon over being restrained by an aunt involved in high fashion seems to suit some Italian city, somehow, more than it does Lisbon.

And I have reasons, which I shall come to shortly, to believe that my mother may have been in Italy in 1939. She was a Jewess. Mussolini had passed his anti-semitic legislation, in a bid to please Hitler in 1938, and it really began to bite in 1939. So we have the picture of my mother in hot water with a rich family whose beloved heir she wanted to capture for her own. who probably knew she was a Jewess, and with the Second World War about to start. What more natural in the circumstances than a forced escape from Italy, perhaps leaving the pianist behind for ever (because perhaps he was also a Jew?)

During the period I lived in Portugal, and had not worked out the details of my theory fully, I used often to visit the Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, hoping that the pianist might still be alive and that I might contact him. He would surely have been about ninety if still alive, but the chance, however slim, existed.

There were only a few garages left in the street in those years, but there was one very large, rather empty and atmospheric, one that something told me might be the place. I spoke many times to the morose but reasonably friendly current manager of the garage and he promised many times to contact a former owner who was very elderly but might just be still alive. But he never did this, however many times I tried to press him.

During these long dealings with the extremely polite but quite immovable garage-managing Portuguese, I happened to find in my immensely stuffed house an old pocket diary of my mother's for 1972. It gave many imperfectly transcribed details of her contacts, and among them a Portuguese gentleman, an engineer, and therefore a person highly respected in Portuguese society (this is the usual title for anyone with a science degree), Carlos Alberto Pereira Barbosa. There was also an address, in quite a smart part of western Lisbon, but no phone number.

 I leapt to the conclusion that this might be the lover from the garage, and went round to the address, but it turned out to be the home of an elderly woman and her highly suspicious middle-aged idiot son. So if the the second old amour had ever lived at this address, he was long gone. But now I know that it is much more likely to have been a slightly gross, if well-connected, Portuguese lover whom she met after twenty-five years, and not the romantic pianist, I am somehow glad that  these researches drew a blank.

One further point about the two romances  My mother said she had become offended with the man she met after twenty-five years when he said, "You know, I always wondered what you would be like in bed, I always wondered that." I put this detail into the story. It follows from everything I have said that I do not believe this piece of dialogue to be quite accurate.

Perhaps he said something even more rude, about improving on previous encounters, or correcting their inadequacies. And I remind the reader that my aunt said that the long series of affairs which seem undoubtedly to have occurred ended in many abortions and the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon denied these terminations. So at least a possibility exists that children were born.

Almost everyone knows, so perhaps I hardly need to say, that, in the old days, in the whole of Europe, when an unmarried girl fell pregnant, she was almost invariably sent away and the unborn child was either aborted before, or adopted soon after, the birth. And this was particularly the case in the Catholic countries of Southern Europe, where the Church maintained a rigid facade of absolute family correctness but the patterns of human love went on as they always have.

And, in Portugal, there was an elaborate system of strict chaperonage for girls of the upper class, but in very many cases the strict duenna proved complicit when the gentleman was actually at the door. And the ordinary people seem to have bred like rabbits from a very early age. Almost no Portuguese knows for certain who his or her four grandparents were and very many don't know any of them. There is a word, "enjeitado" -  "thrown-out one"- to denote children who had to be hastily adopted in circumstances of illicit love. I was to add this word to my vocabulary in circumstances that I shall relate later in this blog post.

The point of  this digression is to show that it is possible that I have two half-siblings arising from the two romances I whose existence I have inferred, the one born around 1940, the other in 1951.

Anyway, to return to the mainly very happy and certainly most adventurous time that my mother worked at the smart hotels, she was at this period to add another gentleman to her list of conquests (how beautiful she was, in her slightlygamine-like way!), and this was a gentleman of the upper class and a most academic one at that.

He was called Vasco Botelho do Amaral, and his name will still mean to something to many elderly Portuguese, because he wrote many books about the wonders and intricacies of the Portuguese language which were most widely disseminated. My mother used to own one, and it eventually fell to me, but, I think that like so many of my possessions, which I lose with almost relentless carelessness although I love them so, it has gone the way of all flesh.

Anyway, in the period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the name of Vasco Botelho do Amaral was one to conjure with in Portugal, and not only there, because this great professor also had the honour of being asked to broadcast on matters Portuguese for the BBC in London. They probably didn't asked him very often, but he was a discreet opponent of the regime of Salazar, which would have done him good with the English, and the regime did not did not disturb his record of publication in his own country.

At about the age of twenty-four, Mum went to night school, at the prestigious Liceu Machado e Castro to learn to read and write, something no-one had ever thought of trying to teach her before, and also to study languages, in several of which she was already fluent, including English. Vasco was her teacher. And he quickly saw that she was quite brilliant. After only a few lessons, whenever the learned professor asked the whole class what was the answer to some abstruse point, it was always my Mum who put her hand up with an irresistible smile and an enchanting laugh to give the right answer.

Of course the reverend Vasco fell madly in love with her. He even wanted to marry her.

But she didn't like him in that way. He was an old man. She found his mannerisms funny. She said he smelt.

And so my mother passed up her chance to become a member of the Portuguese elite. Her fate was to be quite different, and I do not think it was a happier one than if she had settled for the elderly, kind and honourable gentleman. But I also remember the words a woman speaks in a novel by Edith Templeton about not having married an elderly man: "Every day I am sorry. Every night I am glad."

She went to England. The chronology and the circumstances of her arrival are slightly mysterious. The official date of it, to which she often referred with pride in my childhood, saying that she had arrived in the very week of the Coronation, was May 29th 1953. Officially she came first on the ship Highland Princess, one of the Royal Mail boats which used to ply between Lisbon and Tilbury until Harold Wilson put a stop to them in the 1960s.

The woman called Isaura, who was to supplant her in my father's affections, was waiting for her at the quayside and arranged for her to arrive that night at the house in Bickley, south London, where a job was waiting for her. Also on that day, my mother also met Leonor - who has turned up many times in these posts - because she was already a great friend of Isaura.

(Just an aside at this point. Leonor in the many years before she became demented, often mentioned a woman called Carmen who had arrived on the same boat as my mother, but could tell me nothing about what had happened to her then, and for many years she remained a mystery to me. But recently Brian Streeter mentioned that Carmen had been a Spaniard, that some years after they arrived in England she borrowed money from my mother to return to Spain, but once there never returned the money and fell entirely out of touch. So I will never find Carmen, probably long dead anyway.)

But, contrasting with the official story of her arrival,  my mother also mentioned to me at various points in my life that Vasco Botelho do Amaral had been so infatuated with her that he had taken her to London to see the BBC and witness for herself how much respected he was there. And she also sometimes mentioned a period working in Jersey before arriving in England. She gave me no details of this period in Jersey, but again it conflicts with the idea of a definite arrival direct from Lisbon in the week of the coronation. Again these aspects of Mum's life I am never likely to know.

There seem also to be differences in the accounts of how easily an exit from Portugal could be arranged. My aunt Eva said once that it was a gentleman at the Hotel Victoria, where Mum was working, who indicated to her how a passage to England could be facilitated. More recently she has said that it was a couple who were staying in the hotel who noticed how well Mum spoke English and asked if she wanted to go there. She said yes, she would like to go, but didn't know how she could manage it. And that couple promised to arrange her exit by getting someone in England to arrange a work permit,  and told her everything she needed to do in Portugal to effect the departure.

Influence, money and corruption could bring about almost any outcome in Portugal then, as now. And the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon said that it was in fact extremely easy to emigrate in the 1950s, you only needed a job waiting for you in London, which was almost always in the households of wealthy Jews. I imagine the couple in the hotel were wealthy Jews.

But in theory, emigration without permission was strictly forbidden, and Salazar had a secret police, the PIDE, to enforce this. My researcher in Portugal, Dr Teixeira, had the idea of checking whether there was a PIDE file on my mother, but none existed, nor any other official record of her having left Portugal. This led me to wonder at one point whether my mother, her sisters and the friend who lives in the centre of Lisbon could have been allowed to come by the regime as spies. And I once arranged to meet a slightly mysterious person whom I have known for many years at Kings Place in London, and I mentioned this theory, and he surprised me greatly by saying that he thought my mother might have been a spy for Israel.

The only tentative conclusion I can come to is that the business of getting out of Portugal was probably very complex, that several stages and the cooperation of many people may have been involved, and that the idea of a simple, definite arrival in the week of the coronation is probably too simplistic.

All that being as it may, my mother seems to have enjoyed herself in London. Quite soon she was joined by her sister Augusta. The two of them used to go around on the tubes on their days off and laugh at the grim/looking people they saw. These were among the most carefree times of my mother's youth.

Yet, as so often, those times were brief. Within about a year my mother met my father. I have told the romantic and ultimately sad story several times already in this blog, and in the previous post I went into all the evidence that exists for the period between my mother meeting my father and him leaving us. Yet in a post devoted to my mother and myself, and our intimate histories, I must tell this story again. So I will imagine it now, with the best of my heart and understanding, as I believe it to have been.

It was on the tube. She was running to get the train. She almost made it. But just as she was about to jump on, the steel doors slammed quickly shut and, before she was flung aside on to the platform, her finger had been injured.

A man arrived on the platform at that moment. He was in his thirties, already balding, not very tall, but had a fine figure, and there was something about his face, some hint of cruelty or suffering, which gave him a certain fascination. He used gentle words. He spoke English well, but with a slight German accent. He took the weeping woman in his arms.

I will never of course know what the station was where this took place, but for reasons of my own, which I shall reveal at a much later point in this blog, I believe it to have been Charing Cross.

Now they are walking away from the platform. He is going to take her to hospital. He insists on it. He will not listen to her protestations. She cannot make too many anyway. She is in too much pain.

If the station was Charing Cross, then Charing Cross Hospital was nearby in those days. I can picture the scene. People look at them in sympathy as they cross Trafalgar Square. At the hospital she is attended to quickly. She is obviously in so much pain.

They give her painkillers, clean the wound, bind her finger expertly. He is by her side, the gallant gentleman who sprang to her aid, all concern now. During the war he had to be brutal. But he cannot be more tender now.

She begins to take him in for the first time. Her sad destiny is sealed. And my own life is foreshadowed.

Now she has been treated and the natural time has come to part. He asks for her address and phone number. But she is frightened of her employer, who controls the only phone to which she has access, and does not want her to be involved with men. But she tells him enough to give more than a clue as to where she is living.

He goes through a long rigmarole over the next few weeks and eventually is able to track her down. He pleads for another meeting? What can she do but accept?

How much do they tell each other on this first meeting of their real courtship? That they are both Jews? Perhaps. But does he tell her he also served in the German army during the war, because of the Nazi his father was? I think, perhaps not. It would be too soon. Perhaps he tells her that he is a Pole. Because it is the identity of a Pole that he bears, not his real German identity. She would not have known the difference between a German and a Pole. And Portuguese girls in London go out with Polish men.

Or perhaps he just tells her he is just a German Jew. The fact that he is passing as a Pole is a joke between them. He does not mention that his father is a top Nazi, now in Englishman in disguise, until the said father has been met. That presumably happens when the plans for marriage are well afoot.

No, surely she meets the twin brother first. I know where that happened, because my mother and Arthur told me the story often when I was a child. It was at the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand.

Let me picture the scene. It is a typical dance hall of the 1950s in the last years before rock and roll. It will be formal, the men will be in suits, the women in elegant dresses, and there will probably be a big band playing. My mother arrives with her sister Augusta. The two men are waiting for them. My mother and her sister remark on how similar the two men look, although that they do not say that the resemblance goes down to the balding pates that are ruining their beauty.

But my mother surely sees immediately that Arthur is less attractive. He is smaller, less well-built, and there is something both mean and emasculated-looking about him. He is also dirty, his clothes, which look as if they have never seen the interior of a wardrobe, are covered in stains. It is lucky that my mother's other sister Eva has not yet arrived in England. She is outspoken, mocking and ebullient. She is to describe him as looking like a Portuguese beggar. There would have been a slightly nasty scene if she had been there.

Arthure is dominated by suffering and its sister hate. He prides himself on being an Englishman, yet he is not one, even though he has no foreign accent.

And he does not like foreigners. He has no woman, though. He must make do with these. His manner towards them is a mixture of eagerness and reserve. It is immediately understood that Arthur shall dance with Augusta. In them the qualities of suspicion, distance and contempt are paired.

The event passes as any dance of about 1954 did. Perhaps as a treat the couples will dance the tango, which is not the highly gymnastic performance of today, but an affair of many gracious, sexy and subtle steps. There will be quite a number of black people at the dance, but the people who are mine will not dance with them.

Finally the two pairs will go with the other couples to the gracious atrium. What happens then? Do the brothers go off with each other and the sisters too? The twins who have been separated from birth and the sisters who do not have the same mother? No, I do not think it is like that.

Let us say my mother walks away a little with her new amour. Surely she asks him why it is that his twin brother appears to be an Englishman and he is a German or Pole. It is then, surely, that he reveals to her the full sadness of his story. His mother couldn't cope with twins and decided to keep only one of them. He was the choice to be sent away. Perhaps he was already slightly stronger and prettier. Perhaps he came first.

He lived with foster parents. He did not see his father again for many years, and even now he does not know his mother. The fact that he can never share the experience she has known of family warmth leads her to feel pity for him. That she will marry him is sealed.

But it will not be as simple as just loving a man and getting married to him. There are deep complications in this strange family and dark secrets. She has not met his father yet. There is a sister too. And always the brothe,r who is a bit dirty, very poor, and cannot attract women.

We are probably now at some point in July or August 1954. He proposes to her and she accepts. He is an engineer and earns a little more than his brother, who is just a clerk. She anticipates a future which will be with him and will be happy and a partnership that will be lifelong.

The section that follows is all speculation, my own reconstruction of how things may have happened, based on what facts I have. On one of her meetings with her new fiance she is informed by him that she is invited to tea by his father. It is a great honour. The old man does not welcome strangers, but he wants to meets the young woman who will be his daughter-in-law. Arthur will also be present. It will be just the three men and herself.

She prepares with great care and her make-up is discreet. They are to go to a Lyons Corner House by Charing Cross, close to where they met, so it will be a fine treat. Her lover meets her a little way away. Then they walk the short distance to where Arthur and the old man are waiting.

The smart restaurant is crowded, but the men are seated at a table just inside the entrance. Arthur looks sheepish and does not rise from his seat. But the old man, who is very fat, entirely bald and most formally dressed, rises with a courtly gesture, surprising her by kissing her hand and murmuring words she does not understand. His eyes seem oddly unfocused behind his thick glasses, and a single tuft of unruly white hair sticks up absurdly from the very centre of his shiny head. He has thin and strangely twisted lips, which contrast with the fat of his face.

"An old friend of mine used always to greet a beautiful woman in  this way," says the old man in a strange high-pitched voice when h releases her hand, with an accent she supposes must be German or Polish. "But in your case there might have been a problem."

"What is the problem?" she asks.

"That you are a Jew," he says, with a frown just as quickly replacing his smile.

She flinches, and, seeing her unease, he says, "But that is not a problem now. You might even call it an asset, as it was before. These two sons of mine are both Jews, and I intend that it shall not do them harm."

He hesitates a little, and looks really grim, as if he does not know how to go on, but at a prompting from my father the old man says, "But please sit down. And would you like tea or coffee? And would you appreciate a plum cake?"

"I will have tea, please. Yes, and a plum cake."

"And what will you have, Mein Sohn?"

"The same. We are going to be married."

My mother steals a look of gratitude at her lover for his support. The old man notes this. He knows they have this foreign woman in their net and that the first stage of his plan can be put into action. He snaps his fingers imperiously at the waitress, who for some reason, and quite unusually, immediately obeys his call.

When they are all served, and the Nippy is well out of earshot, he outlines what he has in mind for my mother and his sons. Their status is different. Arthur is an accredited Englishmen, as he himself is, but Michael still has a problem with his identity. So there is a simple solution. His two sons are twins and could easily pass for each other. So my mother will officially marry Arthur but really Michael will be the groom.

Then Arthur speaks. If he is to be officially married to any woman, he says, that woman must be British. He will not tolerate being married to a foreigner. So my mother must give up her Portuguese identity before the ceremony can take place.

My mother is very shocked and angry. She can hardly believe her ears. She will lose her nationality and, to boot, not even be officially married to her husband! But the three men are pressing. They look at her with their hard eyes, her lover's eyes suddenly as impenetrable as the other two.

Then he takes her arm. We will really be married, Maria José, he says, we will be happy. But I am in danger. I am not naturalised. I am not the Pole I am supposed to be, I am German. I fought in the war. I am in danger.

And suddenly, with a laugh, she agrees to their plan.

And the ceremony of tea and cake proceeds to its conclusion, and the old man falls silent. For he says nothing if there is no reason to say it.

But he says one more thing to my mother before he kisses her hand again in formal parting. "Remember, tell your employer that the name of your new husband is Arthur Ernest Hills. Tell the same to everyone else. It is the name I have as well and I will see it honoured. If you let the name Michael come out, there will be consequences."

And he waddles away, but no one laughs at him. And my mother bursts into tears, and Michael comforts her with embraces, and Arthur sits beside them with a sick smile on his face.

Do the two brothers know about the second part of the old man's plan, the further shock he has scheduled for my mother, timed for soon after the false marriage? I think Arthur does and Michael doesn't. For the old man has all the experience in the world of the psychological manipulation of others. He knows exactly when to confront people with what they can stand or bear. My father is a man of honour. He would not have agreed to the first part if he had known about the second. Very well then, the old man thinks. Do not tell him about the second until the first is done.

Only a few weeks pass until the marriage. My mother has been working for a wealthy Jewess, Mrs Hirsch, who lives near Hendon Quadrant, and she is living in her flat and has to tell her employer she is leaving. Mrs Hirsch is sorry to hear this, but expresses cautious pleasure that Maria is getting married. She asks about the groom. He is called Arthur, my mother says, Arthur Ernest Hills, and he lives at Taviton Street, near Euston Station.

Suddenly Mrs Hirsch is seriously alarmed. Never have anything to do with a man who lives near Euston Station, she tells my mother with a sharp indrawn sigh. I tell you that for your good, Maria, it will not do anything for you to marry a man who lives near Euston Station.

And how many times during my childhood, when Arthur was dribbling at the mouth in his anger, did my mother recall to me the wise advice of Mrs Hirsch.

But this is when my father has gone and Arthur, the grim reaper, has taken his place. In the tapes that Arthur is to make for me many years later, he remarks, I  remember, about the small role that love has played in his life. And then he says that he married my mother, and love had little to do with it, but that is another story that he cannot tell me now.

And he meant never to tell it. But I have found a lot of it out, you pathetic substitute for a father, whose grave in Pulborough churchyard I have visited twice but will never go to a third time.

You were not there on the day you were officially married. Did it hurt? You probably gave little sign of pain. But you had been hurt so much. You were punch drunk with pain. I have to remember that when I am tempted to be harsh in my feelings towards you.

And, anyway, they told you, surely, how quiet it had been. There were only four people there, the bridge and groom, and the two witnesses. The old man was one witness, and a woman called Celeste Ferreira, who must have been Portuguese by her name, was another. No photos were taken. Hendon Register Office has seen few quieter and more  dolorous wedding ceremonies.

And my mother longs and hopes for happiness at the wedding which even her sister Augusta has been forbidden to attend

She believes her husand will take her to a happy home. But he brings her to a large house in Stockwell, 77, Jeffreys Road, a house kept by Poles, very gloomy, and full of tenants. What particularly riles my mother is that they live next door to a prostitute called Tina, who receives her clients at the same time as she is trying to make love to her husband.

But worse is to come than just this routine unhappiness. He will reveal himself as a potential enemy. He will kill her love for him.

The date is September 23rd 1954, twelve days after the false marriage. It is evening. They are together in the shabby room. Perhaps Tina is receiving a client next door. My mother perhaps, is ironing. He is nonchalantly reading a paper. Suddenly he tells her that his father and Arthur are coming round to see them. They will arrive in just five minutes.

"Why are they coming?" she says, in sudden alarm. "Why are they coming, those two?"

"You'll see," she says briefly.

"Oh, Michael,  I get so frightened sometimes."

"You're right to be frightened. I have too much to hide. Now I'm reading the paper. Shut up."

"Oh, you bastard. I wish I'd never married you."

"You didn't marry me. You married Arthur."

The other Germans arrive. There are two many people now in the small room with the bare bulb. The others are all small, slightly smelly men, all balding or bald. Michael suddenly ceases to seem handsome to her. She hates the others, and now she almost hates him. But not quite. He is her husband. Yet he is not.

They tell her they have come to fill in her naturalisation form. She goes back to feeling relieved. That must be why Arthur has to be here. He is her official husband. She sits down.

Then the old man comes up to her, he stands too close and puts his hand upon her knee. She wants to shake him away but dares not do it. He points to the form which is so clean and shiny, the same form I have now, more than sixty years later, which is dirty and tattered beyond all belief. It has a number stamped on it very neatly in the top left-hand corner, although at the time it is shown to my mother all the rest is blank. The number is 30638.

"That is your official naturalisation number," says the old man.

"But why do I already have it? I haven't applied yet."

"You will have to know more fully than you do," says the old man, "that things do not always come in what is considered the right order, nor do they always turn out as we hope they might."

"No, they're usually just the opposite!" suddenly shouts Arthur, "Like the way I'm supposed to be married to this bitch!"

"Cut it out, brother," says her husband. "We have important business to deal with here."

Arthur looks at his elder brother with hatred, but a gesture from the old man brings him to heel.

The old man gives my mother an unpleasant smile and prepares himself for one of the perorations that he loves. "Now here is the example of these paradoxes that applies to you. Only twelve days ago you married, according to all the evidence, this rather unimpressive son of mine, who never had proper German training. He is to all intents and purposes an Englishman, and that would have given you the automatic right to become a British citizen, would it not?"

She looks at him and cannot bring herself to say anything.

"Would it not?" he suddenly shouts, and comes a little closer to her, and shakes his fist in her face.

"Yes, yes, yes, it would," she says, shrinking from him.

"Don't go too hard on her, Mein Vater," says her husband.

"Very well," says the old man, puffing out his chest," I will put it quite plainly. You will find that, although you have all the automatic rights in the world, in fact you have none at all. All your rights, your very life itself, will depend on your loyalty to me, and to these, my two sons, the one with the rights of an Englishman, which he is not, the other, and finer, with the rights of a Pole, which he is not. And all their rights depend on me. I dispense all rights in that admittedly small corner of the world that I now command."

"Doesn't he talk fine?" says the grinning Arthur. "But he doesn't have the world he used to command at the Sportpalast."

"Arthur!", says the old man, giving the name its German pronunciation, "she knows nothing about all that. And it is well she shouldn't."

"Who are you?" the woman screams suddenly. "What are you doing to me? I am a married woman! I am with my husband! I just want to be with my husband!"

"Calm down, love," says my father, drawing close and enfolding her in an embrace ."You will be with me. All this is necessary, I am afraid. I wish it wasn't. But it is." And then to his father, "Now just explain to her, without any more messing or bullying. Ordinary woman can't take all this."

And, at that moment, they hear the sound of the ordinary woman in the next room moaning convulsively as the new man she is with pumps into her.

"Oh God!! my mother screams. "What is this horror? What I have done?"

"Just tell her, Mein Vater," her husband shouts. "Just tell her the facts and be done with it!"

The little old man draws himself up to his full height, so that he seems to be almost standing on tiptoe. "Since you wish it," he intones, "it shall be done. There is no need for hysteria, woman, simply a rational understanding of your own interests. We have made sure that your right to become a British citizen is worth nothing. The number on your application form, as yet unsigned, is registered already. It is the naturalisation number of my rather rebarbative but reliable daughter Helen, whom you have never met, and I think you would not wish to, and the corresponding copy of this document is already lodged with those in the British Home Office who have the right to take care of it.

The purpose of this procedure, Jewess, is to frighten you, to teach you to be wise, as Jews have always been when they know their masters. We ourselves value our new alliance with certain Jews, as we also did in the past. So we are not necessarily against you. You will be able to pass as a British citizen, but you will never be one. We can always expose you if we wish. The preparations for you to lose your citizenship of Portugal are well under way. We will soon be able to unleash all the horrors of being an entirely stateless person on you at any time.

There is one price for your continued reasonable life. It is silence. Silence about anything you may learn about who we are or what we have done, silence about anything we may ask you to do. Perhaps one day you will have a son. If you ever learn exactly who I am, you must never tell him. If you ever learn exactly who your husband is, you must never tell him. If you learn the horrors in the world as they have been perpetrated by us, you must never hint at it to anyone.

If you follow the vow of silence I am imposing on you now, your life can be a pleasant one and you will probably die in your bed. If you do not, suffering beyond what you can now imagine awaits you. I myself have faced what looked like inevitable death. I sacrificed a wife and six children so that I could die in my bed. So if it is your blood I need to shed to die in the peaceful way I wish, I will shed it, as I have shed the blood of so many. I am a machine for preserving myself, intelligent, pitiless, indifferent to pain."

There is a silence in the small, squalid and ill-lit room as the three younger people contemplate the full horror of the old man. Then the woman lets out a sudden cry which in a strange way indicates acceptance.

"So, Arthur," the old man says, "you will fill in the form now, since you are this woman's legal husband."

"I warned you he talked fine, Maria," says Arthur, as he moves towards the table with a slightly camp gesture.

"Oh how I wish I had never met my husband. I could have suffered anything if I had never met my husband," says my mother.

And my father says nothing, but pulls her down to sit beside him on the bed.

The old man now stands over Arthur. The latter is seated at the table, and showing the patience and devotion which is one side of the character of this generally unimpressive man, Arthur begins to fill in my mother`s false petition for citizenship in large and careful capitals and with a fine fountain pen that was previously secreted about his person.

Mostly he does very well, both in eliciting the details from my stony-faced mother, and in transcribing them into accurate English. Only once or twice he shows his weakness. He cannot help adding something that looks like an apostrophe before his own assumed name as her lawfully wedded husband. When it comes to the place of birth of his assumed father, he has forgotten it. He doesn't want to know it really. The other certainly don`t know it. Arthur suggests Gillingham, because he has memories that the Auntie Connie he so briefly knew lived there. He is pretty sure this will not be checked. Nor is it.

"Gutes genug," says the old man, and at that moment the couple in the next room reach their climax." "A performance worthy of myself in the old days," he adds with a smirk.

"You disgusting old bastard!" my mother suddenly shouts. "I hope you rot in hell! And one day I shall kill you."

"Go on, Arthur," says the old man, ignoring her. "You`re almost finished now."

Firmly Arthur writes that my mother is a citizen of Portugal, and has a right to this by birth and parentage. Over on the other side he writes her full name in capital letters.

"Now sign, Jewess," my grandfather says.

And in absolute silence my mother goes over to the table, motions Arthur out of the way, and sits at the table and begins to sign in her finest handwriting  As she finishes the old man begins stroking her hair. She slaps his face, then pushes him aside, and he almost falls. But he is nimble for such a waddling old man and keeps his balance. She goes back to the sofa and collapses into her true husband`s arms.

"Punish her, Dad!" Arthur shouts.

"There is no need," says the old man, strangely gentle now he has stroked the woman`s hair and she has slapped his face and pushed him aside. "She has done what is necessary. There is no more sense in useless punishments than in pointless rewards. Now I shall append the date, so that you shall know you have my hand to it."

And in rather small, florid and decorative writing, he writes that it is 23rd September 1954. Then he looks briefly over the document to check it is all correct and stores it in a smart folder.

"Well, let us not stand on the ceremony of our going, Arthur," says the old man. "Do I have the words of your Shakespeare right? I have always loved the works of that sublime author, who to my mind outranks even our Goethe. Goodnight, happy couple, or as happy as you will ever be."

Just then the door of the next-door room slams as the satisfied customer departs. The old man puts a finger to his lips and, as they hear the heavy tread on the stairs, all the four occupants of the room are locked in a dreamy and unreal silence. Then the old man raises his hand in a Hitler salute, shouts out "Heil Hitler!" and without a further word my uncle and grandfather take their leave.

And the scene that follows between my mother and father I cannot begin to imagine or describe. 

Nor could I really dramatise much of what shortly follows, based on scanty and uncertain information over a considerable period. So I will go back to weighing up the evidence I have in non-fictional style. Perhaps I shall tell just one section as a story.

I  imagine that the real love and trust between my mother and father must have died on the evening she signed the false document. I feel that she would have resented this to the bottom of her heart. I was also once told by my aunt Augusta that my father was a terrible philanderer, and that this began early in the marriage, and once again my mother was not the woman to accept infidelity. I suppose there were many evenings when she was alone in that room, and then there would have been the ambiguity of his return, wanted in a way, dreaded in a way.

But they must have been happy in love sometimes, and surely on the date towards the very end of 1954 when my own life began in embryo. It almost certainly happened in that shabby room in Stockwell, so near to where I was to have my own flat for thirty years. And 3, Lucas House was more than my flat, it was my home. Thanks Mum and Dad, I wouldn't have missed the life you gave me.

And their own lives surely became better now that my mother had me growing inside her. Things seem to have become quite social as well. My mother's sister, the slightly sombre Augusta, was still in London, but in about January 1955 the more comical and flirtatious Aunt Eva arrived, and also the slightly horselike but sharply intelligent woman who still lives in the centre of Lisbon, the one who bought me my first pram or buggy out of a month's English wages, a woman whose name I am not recording for now, although when she dies - and she is very old and not well now - I will, at a point of my own choosing.

There was now a gathering of the clans in the northern city, and the women, on their days off from the houses of the wealthy Jews for whom they worked, put themselves about among the Poles, both true and false, the Greeks, and the occasional Englishmen, who were the object of their formal and calculating romances. My aunt Eva in particular had one English boyfriend whom she particularly liked called Ken. He was a nice man, had a good job, and his parents had a large house in the western part of London. He had two brothers who were married and had their own houses, and the large parental house was intended for Ken. But Ken's parents did not get on with their two daughters-in-law, even though these lived away from them. And the wily Eva reckoned that surely she would have even less chance of hitting it off with parents-in-law if she was in the same house. So she never married this fine match, and went back to her own country to be married.

Such was the stuff of life for the European foreigners in 1950s London. I can hardly imagine that city now, although it has deep meaning for me, that place of bombsites, blinding fogs and trolley buses, of new immigrants, endless cigarette smoke, Lyons' Corner Houses, the couples dancing in pairs, and the human hopes that never change.

I have a number of photographs from that time, and treasure them still. Some of them show parties of my family and their friends in Waterlow Park in Highgate in the very hot summer of 1955, when my mother was heavily pregnant with me. For there had been a change in the domestic circumstances of my parents during this time and a move to North London. The hated room in Stockwell, which was near my Clapham flat flat of thirty years, was thankfully gone. When the Poles who kept 77, Jeffreys Road SW4 knew my mother was pregnant, they threw my parents out. They didn't want a baby in the house. Perhaps they thought it would disturb the prostitute.

My mother always told me, or at least implied, that they went straight from the Polish house to the house kept by the Italians at 19, Hornsey Rise. I wrote in one of my "Clapham Omnibus" pieces which were published in the magazine Prospect in 2000 and 2001 that I hoped to move one day from my humble circumstances in South London to posher North London, mirroring the journey of my parents between my conception and birth. And, on the verge of my old age, and after many vicissitudes, so it has proved.

The streets where I live now, close to my birthplace at the Whittington Hospital, are as demotic as the South London ones, but there is something more foreign, tight-packed and intimate about them, and also more hostile. I often experience a tug of the heart when I return to South London, if I walk over Clapham and Wandsworth Commons, say, or return to my old flat to collect the post that still comes there.

But I belong where I am, for the hostile streets now mirror my hostile heart. There may be more journeys in my life,  perhaps to many countries, perhaps wild and disconnected journeys, perhaps difficult journeys, and I am old now, so I hope also to cleave to the North London streets where I was born.

There is a mystery about exactly where my parents lived immediately after leaving the Poles. When I was a child, as I just said, I always understood that they had gone straight to the house of the Maccariello family of Casapulla, at 19, Hornsey Rise, N19. But at a certain point the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon let slip that there was another address between these two, and my Aunt Eva, although reluctant to talk about the subject, has not convincingly denied that such an address existed.

Confirmation of this idea lies in all the photos from 1955 that date from before my birth on 21 August. No member of the Maccariellos appears in them. But my mother always said she was very close to this family. During her pregnancy she entered into a second wedding, at the church of St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, which seems to have taken place on 21st May 1955, as I explained in my post "The Seventh Journey". But, although 19, Hornsey Rise was close by, not even Gennaro, who was so shortly to be my godfather, appears in the wedding photo. This would surely  have been inconceivable if my parents had already been living in that family's house.

The particular wedding that took place on 21st May 1955 appears from the names and addresses to be the marriage of another set of persons entirely. The whole thing seems utterly strange, but then everything is strange about my story. I suppose my mother wanted to mark the fact that I was soon to be born by being truly married to my father in the sight of her sisters and her friends. But, since she was already officially married to Arthur Ernest Hills, she probably accepted without protest the use of false names. She was not averse to deception throughout her life. It was part of the world into which she had been born.

And Leonor Mills once told me that she had been surprised to hear that my mother had married my father, because she had been given no warning in advance. This suggests that the people invited to the wedding, who were about a dozen, formed part of an approved circle.

I explained the reasons in the previous post why I thought the wedding on 21st May at St Joseph's, Highgate Hill, must be the one and will not repeat them here. But I will just add that the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon gave a terrible start when I said to her once that I thought my parents' wedding must have taken place on 21st May 1955, and this makes me think even more that I have made the right identification. She is not in the wedding photo and says that she did not attend the wedding ceremony but joined the wedding party later in the day.

The names of the bride and groom, as recorded on the certificate, are Josefa Moravcova and Donald Williams, who was born with the surname Schoenthal. He is the son of Fritz Schoenthal. The document is written, wherever possible in Latin, but one of the witnesses, in English transliteration, is Frederick William Williams. If Donald Williams is an alias of my father, then Frederick William Williams, who might or might not be the same as Fritz Schoenthal - the given names are those of the cruel martinet who was King of Prussia (could this be grim German humour?) -  is possibly my grandfather.

The address of Frederick William Williams is given as 23, Church Mount, London N2. This is a very substantial mansion in an area of already resplendent villas in the area to the north and the very east of Hamsptead Garden Suburb, where Highgate, Hampstead and East Finchley all meet, and not that far from the centre of Golders Green. It is near to the A1, north of the Spaniards Inn, and only a few hundred yards from the Norrice Lea Synagogue.

It is the sort of place, I feel, where a top Nazi in English disguise, with substantial hidden means, and living largely apart from his wife, who stays in her humble suburban dwelling, might find refuge for a while.

Could this be the address where my parents were living at the time of the false wedding, staying with his father? As the reader will no doubt expect by this time, I have been there several times to case the joint. For many months in the summer and now winter of 2017 the house has been in process of redevelopment and behind heavy barriers, with warnings not to trespass and telling parents that they must on no account allow their children to play on the site. It is therefore difficult to find out much about the interior, or even the exterior for that matter.

I have several photographs which show what is clearly the wedding reception on that warm day, one taken in a dining room with my grandfather and Winnie looking jolly, and my two aunts next to them as if they are participating in a dream, and then several in what is clearly the back garden of the house, with a larger party of the guests frolicking around against the background of a lawn, a blank, massive wall and quite a lot of trees in the background.

I have compared the photos several times with what I can see of the shrouded house, and all I can say is that there is nothing to prevent this being the house shown in the photos. I can see one patch of the exterior wall of 23 and it looks roughly similar to the wall in the photos. There is at least one tree in what one can just glimpse of the back garden. And going down a small lane with tall hedgerows which runs by the side of 19, Church Mount (strange how 19 keeps on coming back in my story), it is possible to see that the back gardens of the row of houses with odd numbers between 19 and about 27 are substantially wooded.

Yes, it could be the house, I thought the last time I went, on the evening of 4th November 2017, a Saturday when the quiet villas were lit by a thousand fireworks, and I walked fast in the night-time, rejoicing in the lights above the silent houses and went faster and faster, until I came to Temple Fortune.

(This and the following three paragraphs form a later interpolation, beginning now at 5.47p.m. on the afternoon of Monday 23rd April 2018, St George's Day, a fresh, blowy afternoon following an exceptionally hot five days, and then a fine morning, when I decided to go and see 23, Church Mount again. I arrived there about an hour ago now.

This time the house was undergoing substantial works with much scaffolding, wrapping and commotion of hard hats, and with access now barred by a huge gate guarded by numbered codes, and I began shouting up to the men I could see at a high level, asking them how long the work was going to take now. They did not answer me, despite repeated attempts, and then I moved slightly and could see more workmen within the front garden. These also did not answer me at first, and then I heard one of them addressing another in Portuguese. I therefore addressed the nearest workman in that language, repeating several times, "How long is this work going to take now. About two or three months more? And he answered, in typical laconic Portuguese fashion, "Se calhar mais", "Perhaps longer", and turned away from me.

His foreman then came outside the enclosure and spoke to me. He seemed a polite man, perhaps not as simple as he appeared. He was a Romanian, and our pleasant conversation took place in English. I told him what the Portuguese workman had told me, and asked him how long he himself believed the work would take. He said he thought it might take another year. I said that the whole thing must be a multi-million pound project and he agreed. I asked him if he knew the name of the client for this work, and he said he did not, only that of the company for which he was working. I did not ask this, because it could avail my research nothing. We parted on good terms, and as I stopped for a quick pee in the quiet little alley that goes from by 19, Church Mount towards Winnington Road, it occurred to me that this work would obliterate all traces of the house that my grandfather, possibly, had known.

A minute or too afterwards, when I was walking along Winnington Road towards the main road, where I proposed to catch the 102 bus to Muswell Hill, a smart, black car, or possibly a small van (I am extremely bad with the makes and characteristics of cars and vans),pulled up at the kerb at a point just beyond where I was walking. It remained stationary for several seconds. Sensing possible danger, I did not move on, but stood stock still. This was at about 5.19p.m. this afternoon. Finally the car drew away towards the main road, and as it departed I memorised and then noted down in my pocket diary the registration number of the vehicle. It was S11 CME.)

(Now this is a further interpolation, written on 21st July 2018, concerning two further visits to the house. The first took place on 11th June, now a little over one month ago. On that day, as I have described in the previous post to this one, I had gone on a search for my paternal grandmother's grave, which I did not certainly find, and I ended up at the Golders Green Cemetery and got on an H2 bus which, slightly to my surprise, arrived at Norrice Lea, very near Church Mount. So I got out, walked to the house, which was still swathed in all its paraphenalia, but this time there were people outside, about to get into a car, who were not workmen. They were clearly a father and son and, when I addressed them, they turned out to be of the family that owned the house.

I explained to them that I thought my grandfather might have lived in the house many years before and hosted the wedding reception of my parents, and asked them if I might give them my email, so that I could send them scans of these photos, and they could perhaps say whether they thought these might have been taken at their house in the old days. They smilingly agreed, the son took my email, and quite quickly after that I heard from him. His name was Aaron Lawee, and we entered into friendly contact in cyberspace, I eventually sent him scans of seven photos, and he emailed back to say that he and his family did not think that those photos had been taken at 23, Church Mount. He said he would enlarge the photos, which were very small in the fashion of the 1950s, just to be sure, but I have not heard from him again and do not expect to.

On the morning of 20th July 2018, which is now yesterday, I took the photos back to No 23, hoping to find workmen, perhaps one of the Portuguese I had spoken to before, who had been working on the site for several months and might remember the house and garden as it was before, so that I could double-check the word of the Lawees. Now the house was shorn of its wrappings, and the work was clearly coming to an end, and it was revealed as a fine basically two-storied mansion with a third, attic floor which had perhaps been added at a later date. Workmen were still there, but there were no longer any Portuguese - these seemed to be Eastern Europeans - and one of these workmen explained to me that these workers were all new and none of them knew the house as it had once been and that they were entirely unable to make any identification. He rather charmingly said that he thought those old photographs were very nice, however.

So the final upshot of this phase of the research is that it is beginning to look unlikely that the wedding reception of my parents was at 23, Church Mount, yet it is not impossible.)

Going back to the winter of 2017 to 2018 now, after my second visit there, I decided to do a little research about 23, Church Mount, and its possible occupants around the year of 1955, but the whole thing took longer than I thought. The electoral rolls for the London Borough of Barnet were closed to researchers when I first tried to access them, and I have had to wait for over a month to continue this blog (I used the time to revise a lot of previous material in this and many of the earlier posts). Only today, Friday 15th December, 2017, have I received an email giving me the information I requested, the recorded occupants of that house in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

For 1954 no occupants are recorded. In 1955 Eve L. Shepherd-Walyn and Leonard Philips were supposedly living there. In 1956 it is only Eve L. Shepherd-Walyn. So whoever Frederick William Williams was, when he gave his address on that marriage certificate as 23 Church Mount, he gave an address where he was living either clandestinely, or only very briefly, or not at all. And perhaps, I think when I discover this, all the other addresses on the marriage certificate, like the names, are fake as well.

Where to find the kernel of truth in all this sub rosa information? Well, there is one strange clue, and it is connected with the name Williams, which it is possible my father and grandfather were using as their alias. I discovered this clue in the London Metropolitan Archives. This was also closed, for holidays, when I first tried them, but eventually, a few weeks ago now, I found they held four items concerning the address.

This proliferation of records was because the house forms part of the Hampstead Garden Suburb and, in order to maintain the harmony of the architectural ensemble, it is necessary to ask permission of the organisation that oversees the suburb to make even the most trifling alteration to the appearance of any property within it. The huge planning archive of olden days has been turned over to the Metropolitan Archives for safe-keeping, and several records can be found for almost every house in the suburb.

The first of the four records for 23, Church Mount was of its initial building, which took place in 1936, at the behest of one Ernest Josephs Esq, who may have been either the first owner or the builder.

The next two records are requests for alterations from a Mrs M.E. Reichman. In 1947 she obtained permission to add a sink to the pantry and in 1950 she was able to remove a hedge along the front boundary. Mrs Reichman was therefore the occupant of the house for several years in the immediate post-war period.

It is the fourth record that really interests me. On 21st January 1954 a Mrs D. Williams, of 47, Southway, London NW11, was given permission to install an oil storage tank in the garden without altering its slope and with a retaining wall to be built around the enclosure of the tank to prevent its mouth falling in. The grant of permission specifies that "with advantage"  a hedge a few inches high might be built over the top of the enclosure and that this hedge should be painted a dark green colour.

Now the purpose of an oil storage tank is likely to be heating. Perhaps Mrs Reichman was a hardy soul and had kept her house cold. Since Mrs D. Williams is of NW11, she is clearly not living in the house at the time of the planning permission. And the fact that the house is empty in 1954 and that the occupants in 1955 and 1956 have quite other names seems to show that whoever wanted to move into a warmer and cosier house was not Mrs Williams. Yet a Frederick William Williams gives his name, entirely falsely it seems, as living at the house on 21st May, 1955. And the groom at the wedding, probably his son, and possibly my father, is a Donald Williams. So all that prevents him being the D. Williams who requested the storage tank is his sex.

As it happens, the surname Williams comes up at two other significant points in my story. The first is at the marriage of Joyce Frances Campion Wyatt, who was christened with the surname Campion in 1921, to William Ralph at St Augustine's Church at Gillingham, Kent in April 1944. The reader may remember from my previous post, "The beginning of the good years", that I believe the birth of this bride marked the first insinuation of people with a hidden German connection into the Kentish and Scottish families of Hills and Brown from which I ostensibly come.

One of the two witnesses to the marriage is a Percy Robert Williams. The other is my aunt Helen Vera Hills who, as the reader may also remember, I believe to have been originally called Ursula Helene Hedwig Bleistein and born in Berlin in 1919. It therefore seems quite possible that Percy Robert Williams is also an assumed name, although I have no further details of this person.

The third incidence of the name Williams is in the marriage of a Portuguese called, like my mother, Maria dos Reis, but with different middle names, to Geoffrey Lionel George Searle, at the Register Office in Kensington, on 26th November 1955. The reader may also remember from my post "The seventh journey" that this Maria Manuela dos Reis was the daughter of the first commandant of the Portuguese prison camp Tarrafal which was a Salazarist equivalent of Dachau, and that I believe this marriage, for reasons I explained in that post, to be an event connected to the many frauds perpetrated by my parents and their circle and perhaps to be the marriage of someone my mother knew.

This marriage was solemnised by licence before H.G. Williams, Deputy Superintendent registrar, and also J.M. (possibly N.) Mooney, Registrar, and the witnesses were a well-known portrait painter Gerard de Rosé, who has died, and his wife, Noreen P. de Rosé, who still survives at a very advanced age. I have spoken to her on the phone, and she was quite friendly, but she refuses, perhaps understandably in regard to her years, to meet me, and denies all knowledge of any Portuguese persons in her whole lifetime.

But there is yet another, indirect, connection with the name Williams. As I have just mentioned, in the post at the wedding of my parents my grandfather seemed to have been disguised under the name Frederick William Williams. And as I revealed in the previous post, the one about the background of my paternal family, my grandfather seems either eventually to have been murdered or to have escaped capture in a complex series of frauds taking place in early 1968 and involving four death certificates of men called Hills or Hill and the first of these, possibly that of an invented person, has the name Frederick William Hills, exactly the same but for the surname as Frederick William Williams.  

The name Williams is of course one of the commonest of British surnames, but three, or possibly four, or even five, incidences of it in a family story which is replete with numerous deceptions  and false identities, does seem rather a lot, and I would not be at all surprised if all these people turned out to have been born with other surnames and if all of these surnames were German. In the case of Donald Williams this is certainly the case as he is recorded as having been born with the surname Schoenthal.

Anyway, it is now Christmas Day 2017 and I have decided to phone my very elderly aunt Eva who was a guest at the wedding of my parents and present at the reception. Earlier in the morning I had phoned Brian and Maria Streeter, and they told me that Tia Eva had been ill recently. Maria said that she had phoned her about two weeks before and she had hardly been able to speak because she had an overwhelming cough. Maria said she had a premonition of bad fortune and said she thought it was a very good idea to to phone that morning. My aunt is almost eighty-eight years old.

When I got through to her I addressed her not as aunt "tia", as I usually do, but as godmother, "madrinha". Her voice was weak and she was still coughing quite badly but was able to talk, and was quite alone on Christmas Day (I dared not mention it was Christmas as my aunt is a Jehovah's Witness). She was particularly glad to hear from me, and I prepared to spend almost all the thirty pounds credit on my mobile and as gently as I could finally brought the conversation round to the wedding reception.

I gave her a description of 23, Church Mount, saying I had a picture in my mind of what the house where the reception had been held might have been like. I said I it was a large house and had a garden with trees in a luxurious suburb with a synagogue nearby, and that it belonged to my grandfather. Could that have been it? My aunt said that it was more than sixty years ago and she could not remember anything about it. I mentioned that my mother had once told me that my father had been a terrible man but his father had been ten times worse. Then my normally most reticent aunt told me a surprising thing.

She said that, while she was in England, which was four years between early 1955 and 1958, my grandfather, while legally married to Winnie Chaplain, had married another woman altogether, in a different part of London. She could not remember any details of who the woman had been or the district of the city, but she remembered that my grandfather had said he was a free man and had a right to marry whom he chose.

When I tried to question my aunt further, she changed the subject. The three old women who have been my chief informants (one of them, Leonor Mills, is now heavily demented, and I will get no more out of her) have always been like that. They will be quiet a long time, then suddenly let something out. Then they immediately clam up again, or deny what they have just said. They want me to know things, but are are frightened of the consequences of my knowing them.

And my aunt and I went on talking as the credit approached zero on my new mobile phone, but I was conscious that it might be the last time I spoke to her, and I was filled with sudden love for my dear godmother and aunt and a wish to make her feel better. She said she thought her cough was flu rather than just a cold and spoke of how lonely she was on this day. So I said I was alone too, and reminded her that 2018 would mark sixty years that she had been in her little bungalow, where she had lived for so many years with her husband, and I wished her all the best for the year that was to come. But that led to another, most terrible fit of coughing.

And I put the phone down with many farewells, promising to phone her again on her eighty-eighth birthday, 4th February, 2018. I will, if God wills, sing "Happy Birthday to You" to her in Portuguese. Last year I sang it in English, but in the coming year it will be in her own language. And I must ask her no more questions about the past on 4th February. It wouldn't be right.

As I looked round at the empty, white room again I pondered on what this new information might mean in the context of 23, Church Mount. A woman and a man were listed as living there in 1955. They names had meant nothing to me. But could these be the aliases of my grandfather and his new, bigamous wife? Or, indeed, of my own parents? Or were these people well-wishers who would allow this place to be listed as their official residence even while they allowed a dodgy couple to live there? I was to look up the unusual name Shepherd-Walyn on the Internet, but without result. No use to look up Leonard Philips.

Sometimes the researches I am making into my family history seem to lead only to further and deeper mysteries every time, without any prospect of resolution, just the endless chain of strange and untoward facts confirming that a deeper mystery lies here.

Perhaps I will tell of a very small and trivial mystery puzzle now, for, who knows, it may have its significance and it lies in my heart to unburden myself of it. Once again it concerns Aunt Eva. My mother and Arthur Ernest Hills used to tell many stories about her during my childhood, because she was the eccentric and flibbertigibbet of the family. I told one of these stories in the previous post, and used it to illustrate quite an important point. Here is another one that appeals to me.

It concerned the period when my aunt first arrived in England, and my mother and Arthur, according to them, were living at Hornsey Rise. The nearest tube to this is Archway, and it lies on the Barnet branch of the Northern Line. When Aunt Eva arrived she could speak almost no English. My mother and Arthur arranged to wait for her at Archway and gave her the most detailed instructions over the phone about she should reach them. Remember, my mother said to her again and again, get on a Barnet train not an Edgware one, remember, whatever you do, it's High Barnet you want!

Unfortunately, Aunt Eva learnt her lesson slightly too well, went sailing past Archway, and ended up going all the way to Barnet. And when she arrived there, and found that there was no one waiting for her at this remote northern outpost, she promptly sat down on her suitcase and burst into tears.

And, miraculously, there was a Swiss gentleman just passing by who could speak quite good Portuguese. He was very kind, quickly understood the dimensions of the problem, and was soon able to set Tia Eva back on her way to Archway. There my mother and Arthur were still waiting for her, they were immensely amused by the story and the goodness and intelligence of the Swiss gentleman, so was all was well that ended well.

I used to love this story when I was a child and demand that they tell it to me very often, and I know it absolutely by heart to this day.

But during one of my recent visits to the aged Eva she told me another version of what was clearly the same story. It was all rather like the Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus in the three Synoptics and in the Gospel of John, the whole thing came at a different stage in the story and illustrated a a slightly different point.

In this version my aunt was already working with the wealthy Lieberman family in Hendon but still knew little English. She was coming presumably from the centre of London. She still had to get out at a certain stop on the Northern Line. But it was at Edgware rather than Barnet that the Swiss gentleman found her in tears. So it cannot have been Archway that she was told to get out at. Perhaps it was Hendon Central and the directions came from the Liebermans, whose house was nearby. Perhaps my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills inserted themselves into the story to make it more touching for me.

In many ways, this version of the story, which comes from Aunt Eva's own mouth, makes a lot better sense. It slightly defies belief that my mother could have left her sister, speaking not a word of English, to negotiate her way alone all the way to Archway. Surely they would gone to the airport or the coach station or even the port to meet her.

And my mother and Arthur had a clear motive for setting the story at Archway and High Barnet. The address they always told me they had lived at was 19, Hornsey Rise, N19. So the story would most plausibly fit this address. It was my parents who were living there, not Arthur, so the story was already partly a lie.

And I know that Aunt Eva arrived in England near the beginning of 1955 when my mother had only just fallen pregnant and the Poles in the house in Stockwell would not yet have discovered this and thrown them out, and there is only one branch of the Northern Line in the south so a story involving alternative branches would make no sense there. But if we situate the story three or four months into Eva's stay, say near the time of the wedding in May 1955, then this is the time when they would have left Stockwell, not yet  have reached Hornsey Rise, and might have been living at Church Mount, so perhaps the story still involves them and they came to Golders Green, say, to meet Eva.

And, you, reader, will be saying, Charles, this is a very tenuous chain of reasoning. But remember how strange my whole story is, how many falsehoods and half-truths it contains. It is very trivial discrepancies like this that can lead us to feel that one version of events is more likely than the others and we can draw certain, albeit tentative, conclusions from the implications of the discrepancies. It is more like the Sherlock Holmes stories than the Gospels, or, at least, I hope it is. Call me a lumbering Dr Watson if you will!

Now do we have any clues as to the possible identity of the woman my grandfather had clandestinely married? Yes, there are one or two. I have referred many times to the group wedding photo of the ceremony at St Joseph's. It contains several rather striking-looking people. One of them is a dark middle-woman rather sweepingly holding her fine handbag and looking as if she is in a foul temper about the whole proceedings. She is slightly to the left of my father but with a slight space between them, so that she seems to form the leading figure of a subordinate group in the photo, to the left, consisting of six, mainly Portuguese or foreign people.

Several of the smaller photographs of that day also show her. In the photo of my mother and father signing the wedding register, he is wearing dark glasses,  my grandfather and this woman appear behind the couple, assuming a proprietary and weird air. This was the first sign that they might be together. 

And in several of the photos showing the wedding reception, back at whatever house they went to, the woman looks more jolly than in the group photo and seems to be animating the younger people of the party. She is a commanding-looking and glamorous presence, this middle-aged woman, and there is something rather evil-looking about her.

Now when I went down to Crawley several years ago to see Maria and Brian Streeter, and showed them the wedding photo to try and get them to identify the people in it, he surprised me by saying that, a few years after the wedding, my grandfather had suddenly appeared in Crawley with this woman as if they were a couple, He was still legally married to Winnie at that time, so this had surprised Brian. He said that he knew nothing more about this woman, not her name, not her nationality, and in all my subsequent visits to Crawley he denied that he had ever said anything whatever about her. But the recollection appeared so clear on that first occasion that I am sure it must be genuine.

So is it possible to know anything more about this woman? Well, I can add two further details. I tried very hard to try and trace any of the other people in the wedding photo, if they might by any chance still be alive. Eventually, by a process too tedious and irrelevant to relate in detail here, I managed to find one. There seems no need for me to give her full name, although I know it. But this Portuguese woman has always been known by her second Christian name of Rosa and that is how I remember her.

She is a very pretty young woman in her smart bonnet in the wedding photo, and mu aunt Eva remembers her as always at the centre of a lovely group, always laughing and attracting attention. When I found her one afternoon in the summer of 2016, it was a hot day, and her door in a remote and peaceful South London suburb was wide open. This was just as well because, at eighty-six now, she was unable to walk although otherwise in good health. She would have been unable to answer the door if it had been closed.

But I just walked in with a cheery rat-tat at the door and explained to Rosa that she had appeared in my mother's wedding photo, and she cheerfully took the photo from me and identified herself as the lovely young woman she had once been, wearing her black handbag nonchalantly on her left arm to match her white glove. The old woman greeted me as an old friend, and we talked for some time with mutual pleasure, and when I left her she told me she hoped I would come again.

Unfortunately, she had only recently arrived from Portugal at the time of the wedding, had spoken very little English at the time, and could remember almost nothing about that day and the people who had been there. I may refer just briefly at a later point to the few things she could recall. However for now I will say that she remembered the evil-looking woman and gave me  two facts about her: that the woman was Portuguese; and that she had lived in South Africa.

And while we are on the wedding group photo, do I have any other thoughts about the fourteen people who are in it (fifteen, if you count me within my mother's womb)? Well, there is a particularly striking-looking very tall man standing behind my father and the evil-looking woman, but between them, so he seems to form a link between the right-hand and the left-hand group in the photo, but is nevertheless definitely in the left-hand group, the foreign group. He is a man of about my father's age but my Dad's head come up only to his shoulder. He gives an impression of great power, perhaps violence.

I have always slightly wondered whether this might be a comrade of my father's from the war. But pretty Rosa remembered this fine-looking gentleman. He had been interested in her, she said, someone had told her this, but she had never seen him again. But she insisted that he had been totally an Englishman.

But, as I said, she had only just arrived from Portugal. Would she necessarily have been able to hear a German accent if it had been slight? The tall man would certainly have presented as an Englishman. And Rosa had not noticed even that my mother spoke Portuguese imperfectly. I do not feel her evidence to be conclusive in this matter.

My father had a close friend, whom my aunt has mentioned several times, and she knew him only as Jack. I asked her once whether the tall man was he, but she said she could not be sure. She said she did not remember the tall man from the wedding. But his height and bearing are so impressive that this seems incredible. This is one of my aunt's evasions.

One of the two witnesses, apart from Frederick William Williams, has the romantic name of Samuel Scarlett, and his address is given as 23, Elvaston Place, London SW7, a magnificent house in South Kensington, and seemingly a fitting address for this warhorse of a man. The address given for Josefa Moravcova, which seems to be the alias of my mother, is 29, Elvaston Place, several doors down in this imposing South Kensington Street. 

When I finally went to the Kensington and Chelsea Library to look up the electoral rolls for Elvaston Place, No 29 (not No 23) was broken up into three flats at the relevant time, and one of them contained the family of an engineer called Lewis Scarlett, and one of the family members, presumably a son or nephew of the house, and therefore of the right age to be the man in the photo, was called Peter Scarlett. But there was no Samuel Scarlett. So this is another false address, probably also a false name. Neither at 29 nor at 23, broken up into four flats with entirely unfamiliar English names, was there any record of a Josefa Moravcova, so she also, if she existed, lived at the address for a short time or not at all.

So, going back to the tall man, I can say nothing at all for certain about him, not his name, not his address, not his nationality, not if he was the witness calling himself Samuel Scarlett, but only that he looks honourable and kind as well as perhaps violent, or capable of violence, that he was attracted to women and would have been attractive to them.

(While I am on the subject of the addresses given on the certificate, I will just mention that I went to Bruce Castle where the Haringey archive is kept, to look up the record for Donald Williams, which was possibly an alias of my father, or of my uncle. This person is recorded as having lived at No 24 of Block 3 at Northwood Hall, a very smart, dark  and sinister block of flats (one can imagine Hercule Poirot residing there), on Hornsey Lane, just on the Haringey and Islington border, but on the Haringey side, and very close to the church of St Joseph where my parents' marriage took place.

At the archive I was helped by two pleasant and intelligent female members of staff, who unearthed a great deal of information for me very quickly, so that I had plenty of time to enjoy the museum housed at the Castle, its park, and the slightly spooky beauty of this ancient enclave within Tottenham, as well as to discover that this No 24 was likely to be a true address.  Two people had lived in the flat for substantial periods of time, Donald Williams and someone called Anna Schoenthal (on the certificate, the original name of Donald Williams is given as Schoenthal). 

The archivists discovered that Donald Williams had arrived at the flat by 30th June, 1946, so, if Donald Williams was my father, this gives the latest date of his arrival in England, and if he was Arthur, then the date has little meaning. Anna Schoenthal joined Donald Williams at the flat in 1947. He is absent from the flat from the time of the 1956 register, which would make sense given that he is recorded as having married in May 1955. Anna Schoenthal remained on the register until 1970, and the archivists were also able to unearth a record of her death in Islington in that year, from which I immediately surmised that she had died at the nearby Whittington Hospital, where I myself was born.

I soon went back to the Westminster Archives and found the details of the certificate for Anna Schoenthal, which I ordered. She had indeed died at the Whittington, and had been born, it seemed on 13th May 1880, in Germany, so that she was apparently 90 at the time of her death. She was described as the widow of Fritz Schoenthal and he was a company director. Donald Williams was the informant, and he was listed as her son. His address was given as Flat 25 of Floor Four in Northwood Hall. More and more it was looking as if these were real people and had nothing to do with my parents. The three other false addresses, and the many instances of the name Williams in my story, were still strange, though.

After some while, I went back to the Haringey archive and the electoral rolls, and it was a less magical visit this time, because I knew the museum and the park, and there were new staff, indifferent people. And what I discovered about Flat 25 once again did not seem to confirm my theories. Donald Williams and Josefa Moravcova are listed as moving into the flat from the 1956 register, which would be natural in newly-weds. They would have been moving in to be close to his elderly mother. They are listed as living there continuously until 1977,and from 1975 they are joined on the register by Martin P. Williams, who must clearly be their son. From 1977 to 1982 a gentleman called Harvey Cohen lives at the flat. Then it falls empty until 1984. And after that the endless whirligig begins of the names of new tenants which was characteristic of such blocks in the Thatcher years and beyond.

So far, so normal. There is just one strange coincidence that relates to my story. The reader may recall from my previous post, "The beginning of the good years",that in 1982 my maternal grandmother faked her own death, and that this deception probably involved the murder of another woman in a London property, 29. Ariel Road, NW6, that also fell empty, from a slightly earlier date than the one at Northwood Hall. Strange, two empty properties at the same time in my story. It could be a coincidence, of course. Yet there are so many odd coincidences in my story.

But I am conscious that I have been going on about the Schoenthals, the Moravcova and the Williams, and even someone called Cohen, for an enormous time, and perhaps to little purpose, so I will leave them for the present, perhaps to return much later to this line of thought in this post if anything turns up that could confirm my theories.)  

Going back to the wedding photo, there is one person in it about whom I have just one clue. He is a quite elderly, smart and kindly-looking gentleman who is in the left-hand group, at the back, between my aunt Eva and Rosa, both in front of him. Somebody, perhaps the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, once told me they thought this man might have been an Italian. If so, he cannot be Samuel Scarlett, and the only other men in the picture are my father and grandfather, so Scarlett, if such he is, can only be the very tall man. 

Another person in the photo I have no clue about whatever. This is a tall, fair youngish woman who looks particularly tough and British and who is to the right of my grandfather, and seeming almost to supervise him from behind, so tall and dominating-looking is she. I used to imagine that this might be my aunt Helen, whom Arthur had disliked so

I think Helen is present in fact, because on the other side of my grandfather to the dominating woman, behind him, and between him and my mother, is a woman who bears a strong resemblance to Helen's photo and who, someone once pointed out, has exactly the same eyebrows as my father. She wears quite a formidable-looking head-dress and looks plausibly the sister in a mental hospital that Helen was. And surely it is likely that my aunt would have been placed between my grandfather and my mother. I believe this woman to be Helen, although the identification is not certain.

On either end of the whole group, and dressed in sombre black - as are the evil-looking woman and Rosa, they must all have thought it fitting, to counterpart my mother and sisters in white - are two Portuguese women about whom I have some information. 

The one to the far right, and therefore in my father's group, who is unattractive in a goofy way and looks a natural victim, was called Idalina, as identified by the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon: this Idalina married a Pole, Stanley, had two sons by him, and was unhappy. She is long dead, which is a pity, because, according to my aunt Eva, who fell out with her, she was a great teller of tales and so I surmise she might have had some useful (if dubious) information for me.

The tall and slightly forbidding-looking woman to the far left, was a great friend of Rosa, and was idenitified by her as being called Laura, She has also long been dead. The identification of her had a negative usefulnesss, because someone had proposed she might be another figure in the story, and I can now dismiss this possibility.

Almost to the far right of the picture, with the foolish Portuguese woman in front of her, and looking very much a large, traditional Englishwoman of her time, is my grandfather's legitimate wife, Winnie Chaplain, who had been born the daughter of a pianoforte manufacturer with the unfortunate surname of Gay. She does not look gay, in either the traditional or modern sense, rather retiring in fact, yet there is an edge to her. She looks a very jolly middle-class Englishwoman of her time, normally affable, sharp when required.

In white dresses to match my mother's rather creamier one, and with bare sleeves and black gloves unlike any of the other women, are the two of my aunts who came to England: Aunt Augusta within the "English" group and Aunt Eva in the foreign one, as befitted their relative levels of affiliation to England; Eva in a plainer ensemble, contrasting with the flowery, elaborate one of Augusta, reflecting the extent to which each outgrew their peasant past; Augusta, to the right of my grandfather, and with the entirely unknown woman behind her, smiling broadly in her ruthless way, while Eva, next to Rosa, gives a faint Mona Lisa smile.

And in the centre are the bridal couple, my father slightly forward, with the proprietorial air of the new husband, smiling so as slightly to show his teeth, and my mother with more a  bow in her hair than a hat, carrying such a fine bouquet around her still slim stomach (although I am there) that you cannot see whether she is wearing gloves, smiling that full, brave, gallant smile that I remember, which perhaps hid so much woe.

And next to her, to the right, is my grandfather. He is smiling very broadly, as he is in all the various other photos of the ceremony and the reception. He clearly enjoyed the day his son got married. He was in charge. He is very small, very smart, very rotund. Two wild-looking tufts of hair stick up from his otherwise bald head, to match his sticking-out ears. One would have thought him a very jolly old cove, if one did not know so much about him.

For everything I know about him is bad. No one has ever had a good word to say for him. He tried to kiss my mother on the mouth. And I am sure as I can be that he had been a leading Nazi and responsible for God knows how many deaths .I even believe, as I explained in detail in the previous post, that he might have been Goebbels. A smiling villain indeed, and God damn him.

And, yet, as I related in a very late interpolation in my last post, "The beginning of the good years", I recently discovered that according to the records he was cremated before his death was registered, and that another man was certified dead in his place, and then that body supposedly went into a ground another name, but the cemetery has no record of this at all, a plot that even Patricia Highsmith might have had trouble dreaming up, so complex and impenetrable is it. Anyway, I think this all means that probably he was murdered. So the smiling has to end and the devil's good luck perhaps did not go on until death. What goes around comes around, as I heard them say so often in prison.

No, alone among the screaming people of the old-fashioned lunatic asylum, where he had been taken protesting in a closed van, the evil old man would have seen his killers coming for him and known that the end had come. Perhaps they tortured him a bit before he died. Good. All those deaths had to be avenged. Justice had to be done. Whatever my feelings about my own grandfather, I know this as well as anyone.

I just pray that whoever holds the secret will allow it to be known how this person finally met justice. For justice is justice, late or soon. And the truth has a beauty of its own.

Yet, as I said, the circumstances I have discovered are so strange and confusing that the possibility exists that all this fiddling round with certificates and coffins was just another ruse to ensure that my grandfather escaped death or capture once again. In that case there would be no justice to satisfy anyone's heart. But my point about the truth having a beauty of its own would still hold.

In some ways the theory that it was another escape, in order to send him on his way to South America and out of the hair of his family for good, fits the facts better. But I believe it was murder. For I remember how his son Arthur Ernest Hills, when the news reached our house, exclaimed, "Thank God the old bastard's dead"! There was something so heartfelt, so joyful, in the way he said that. I have remembered it for life.

Yet the possibility exists that it was said in that way for my benefit. I was standing with them in the hall, my mother and him. Surely, they might have reasoned, having heard this, I would believe for ever that my grandfather was really dead. And Arthur Ernest Hills was such an inward, hidden sort of person. One knew his hatred was for real, but not his joy.

No, I know almost for certain it was a murder. Because, quite recently, I mentioned to my aged aunt Eva, as she lay resting on her bed looking up at me as I sat on a chair nearby, that I had been researching these matters, and that the old man had either escaped again or been killed. And my aunt said, "He was killed".

And since it was a murder, I have to get used to the fact that my whole family was probably involved in killing him. This is hard for me. And, in spite of the horror of his personality, isn't it still a bit unlikely? Well, that sort of thing goes on all the time in Greek tragedy. His wife Winnie hated him, surely, because he pursued other women, and his three children must have been ambivalent because they were Jews. And my mother hated him worst of all because he had tried to kiss her on the mouth. She loathed him with passion after that. She would have done it, surely. When he did that to her,  he signed his own death warrant, surely.

Yet what did I ever know about her motives? What did she ever share with me about her life? Perhaps she would have considered his having to go to Argentina sufficient punishment. But I know she would have been capable of conspiring to get him killed.

No, Charlie, you've got to accept it. He was murdered and your whole family conspired in the fact. And, you should be glad, because your grandfather was a wicked, wicked man.

And now, with sadness, I must leave the battered photo that has followed me around on so many journeys so that the picture is beginning to come away from its backing and the blue material underlying the surround is showing up through the white. Pray that I never lose this photo which is so close to my heart. Pray that I have made my readers feel something of its fascination. Pray that I finally discover all the secrets that it holds.

For, after so many words already of this post, and the consideration of so many impenetrable mysteries, I must really get on with the related stories of myself and my mother. and am now finally approaching the time of my own birth. What do I know about the month or two immediately before that?

Well, there are various pictures of my mother and father, Aunt Eva, the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, and a Greek boyfriend of Eva's, lounging on the grass or standing by the statues of the griffins in Waterlow Park on what is obviously a high summer day. My mother is heavily pregnant in these photos, so perhaps it is July, only a month before I am born. Aunt Augusta no longer appears, and this must be because she has already gone home to Lisbon, soon to depart as a settler to Africa with the man she loved but who was already married, Fernando Oliveira. And perhaps my parents have arrived at 19, Hornsey Rise, the address at which they were to be happy. Perhaps they came from there on that summer afternoon, in the days when I used to kick her so hard from within her stomach.

But perhaps they were not already there, but still at the other address. The recorded address of Donald Williams is very close indeed to Waterlow Park, but he is living there with Anna Schoenthal. And 23, Church Mount is not far. It could have been from any of those three, or indeed another, that my mother went to the Whittington Hospital for my birth.

Oh, parents of my heart, how sad that you were together so briefly. How hateful that you were able to tell me so little of who you were. Dear Dad, how I wish you had brought me up. I would not have been a homosexual then. Dear Mum, how terrible that you finally betrayed me. For now I am left with a love for you that smoulders, that can never return.

And now it is the early evening of Saturday, 20th August, 1955, at whatever North London address (but I think it was surely 19, Hornsey Rise), and her labour is beginning. My mother and father are together in the single room they share. They discuss how soon she should go to the hospital. She thinks perhaps it should be immediately. But he tells her to hang on. He has studied the matter thoroughly in books. He knows the labour will be long from here. Probably nine hours, perhaps more.

And he cannot go with her. Nor can he visit her when they keep her in the hospital. For this will be officially Arthur's child. The danger, similar as they are, that someone might realise that the pretended father and the real one are two separate men, will be too great.

Then the pain is finally too much for her and she writhes in agony, then they sit together in near silence as she screams out, then he goes to the telephone.

And now the ambulance, with my mother in it, is leaving the sinister address in the faint evening mist and among the unknown people. What is my mother's thinking as she lies on the trolley, clinging to its side in desperation perhaps? This is the third child that she has borne to termination. The other two she gave away. They were brought up, in one case by strangers, in the other by members of her family. She had no part in their upbringing. She saw them from time to time.

And is she praying: third time lucky, oh, third time lucky? May this be the child that I see grow into a successful adult. May this be the father of the grandson I shall love. May this be the child who brings me joy.

But there is to be little joy, little success, no grandchild. May I always remember that when I am tempted to hate or despise her in my thoughts.

And they are turning into the precincts of the Whittington, and they unload her into the grim old St Mary's wing, where I believe the workhouse infirmary once was, and it is more or less unreconstructed in 1955, although the same building is all modern inside now. And, in 1955, there have recently arrived a vast number of nurses recently migrated from the Caribbean, and it is one of these who is to be the bane of my mother's night-time hours of labour, as she often recounted to me.

And perhaps I shall make very roughly the same journey when I come to die, being borne rapidly through the hostile streets to the same hospital, to meet such a terrible black nurse to tend me. It is right, perhaps, that I should be. And perhaps I shll know the intensity of pain she knew at the beginning of my story. "No, you've got to push when I tell you!" the grim midwife says, bending over her. "Not now! You're killing your baby!"

"But |I've got to! I've got to do it now."

"When I tell you! Or you'll kill your baby."

"No, no, you don't understand. He's just wanting to come."

"I understand a lot better than you do, my dear. You're killing your baby."

Yes, well, I'll die anyway, and what will the years have been worth? My mother always tells me that all the other babies born that night were black, that the midwife kept on going away to deal with these more grateful ones and then coming back to abuse her. Well, London will be infinitely more multiracial when I come to die even than it is now. I shall be alone in the hospital of my birth and totally surrounded probably by blacks and browns. I shall not want to talk to them. I won't want visitors of my own kind. I shall be abused by the last person I see and abuse him or her in my turn.

And then, when the head is about to come out, my big, big intellectual forehead, which my mother used often to show me when I was a child, comparing it with her own, saying that we had Jews' heads and that was why we were so clever, setting us apart eternally from the world that rejected us, then the pain is terrible, those last two hours, lonely in the middle of the night, as the clock ticks towards half past three on the morning of 21st August 1955.

And she sees the head as it comes, then the face that she will grow to love and hate, as I see hers. And the pain now is worse than anything that has gone before, with scream after scream being wrenched from her, in this grim old workhouse, as the midwife busies herself elsewhere.

And then I am born, her child of woe.

And the nurse is there suddenly, a bit friendlier now, and places me on my mother's stomach. And then all the love she will always feel for me comes in triumphant flow. But the labour has been the worst she has known, and she has known three. The question of her daughter is settled. But she thinks back to her other son even as I am there. 

nd then pure love and joy takes over, as it is to do for ten years.

And that is the last section of my own and my mother's story that I shall dramatise. We are in modern times now, the part of history that coincides with my life. I know the story from here, more or less, and shall try to tell it in sober fashion, evaluating any emotion for what it is worth, balancing the absolute facts with things of which I cannot be certain.

The first thing I have to tell, though, is still a speculation. It is based on what my mother often told me in my childhood, and the justifiable inference I can make from it. She often used to say that my father, by which she meant Arthur (for I knew of no other father then), had visited her in the hospital after my birth and, when he saw me, had said, rather doubtfully and disapprovingly , "Is that our baby?" 

And it seems so typical of him, of his wry, slightly malicious humour - and she told it so often, clearly with him in mind - that I believe Arthur is the real subject of this story and that, the very first time he saw me, the crescendo of doubt he felt for me was beginning to show.

On the other hand, I think it is likely to be my father who signed my birth certificate, and that is was therefore he who went to the register office in Islington and signed under the name A.E. Hills. The signature is clearly identical to that of the individually signed certificate of the register office wedding on 11th September 1954 - which I obtained clandestinely, as I have related elsewhere - but then I believe my father also impersonated Arthur on that occasion. Arthur would have got the birth details from the hospital and passed them on to my father for him to take to the register office, in a Lyons or Kardomah perhaps, where nobody would have thought it strange that twins should meet.

My birth certificate, dated 3rd September 1955, begins, "Birth in the sub-district of Tufnell, in the Metropolitan Borough of Islington", and I have always been thrilled by this incontrovertible proof that I was born in a poor district of north London, but right at the heart of things, born in the greatest city in the world, the very city and the very area where I live now.

I was christened with the given name Charles, which was in honour of Prince Charles, then a young boy. The particular combination Charles Albert was probably chosen by my mother, because this pattern of naming is popular in both Portugal and Italy, for the King of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto, much beloved in his native realm, after the revolutions of 1848 took refuge in Portugal, where he is also remembered with great affection.

There is only one detail on my birth certificate that seems slightly untoward. My mother's maiden surname is recorded as Reis (this is my own third name), and the registrar has recorded that her surname was "formerly dos Reis." But this is a distinction without a difference. In Portuguese custom, which is distinct from Spanish, and therefore from that of the rest of Europe, the particule has no significance and can be used and dropped at will, normally for purposes of euphony. To make such a distinction would never have occurred to my mother. Perhaps it was the registrar, D.F. Braddy, who misunderstood and thought she must have undergone a change of name. But I am slightly disturbed by the persistent idea that this false distinction was introduced by my parents for reasons that are unknown to me, perhaps to enable another fraud.

I was baptized at the church of St Joseph's, where my parents had been married, on 2nd October, and a photograph in my possession, given to me by my aunt Eva, who is also my godmother, records the event. I am in the arms of my aunt Eva, and my godfather Gennaro Maccariello, is also there, and there is another photograph of my godparents with me outside 19, Hornsey Rise, so we must surely have arrived at that house by this time, one-and-a-half months after my birth. 

This photograph also shows my parents, Concetta McLorg,Gennaro's sister, and two children, one of whom must be young Catherine Tamara McLorg, Concetta's daughter, while the other is unknown to me. At the edge of the group is the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, looking very tall, angular and mysterious. I would hazard a guess that this photograph was taken by William McLorg, Concetta's husband, as this would explain why he is not in the photo.

I have recorded in previous posts that my christening was followed quite shortly afterwards by another marriage of my mother, also at St Joseph, on 13th November, and which may have been either once again to my father, or to Arthur, my official father. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon has told me that this ceremony was insisted on by Concetta, a firm Catholic, so that all should be absolutely regular in the eyes of the Church, and this suggests that Arthur was really the groom on this occasion. Another piece of evidence tending to this conclusion is that one of the witnesses (besides Concetta) was Napoleon Maciejewski, the later divorced husband of the the woman known as Rosa whom I have recorded as having met earlier in this post. According to his son by a second wife, whom I have also met, Napoleon was without doubt a Pole and, if my father was already passing as Polish at this date (not absolutely certain, because his naturalisation under the name Miecsyzslaw Hufleit only dates from 1968), then he would have wanted to avoid this ceremony for fear of being unmasked as a German.

As with the first marriage, at the Hendon register office, the identity of the groom at this third wedding cannot be established with certainty (and no photographs can be attributed to either the first or the third occasion), but I incline to the belief that it was my father at the register office and Arthur at the second wedding at St Joseph's. The priest was a different one, so no perjury need had been involved, and the Church was remarkably flexible with ex-Nazis who could demonstrate firm Catholic beliefs. 

They would have kept my mother in the hospital for quite some days after my birth, and then we would have gone home. And that was 19, Hornsey Rise, N19, the house that haunts my life, although I know little of it. It haunts me because that was the one place I lived with my real father and my mother, and they loved me and were proud of me then.

During my long childhood in Crawley, my mother often used to tell me stories of the life we had lived at Hornsey Rise. There was a great tree in the back garden, and she said that there I was initially looked after in the treetops by the birds, and they wiped my bottom most assiduously, until I became too much for them to handle, and then, very anxious, they brought me to my mother to look after, and she was overjoyed to accept. I believed this story until the astonishingly late age of about twelve, when a boy in the playground at school disturbed me with his unwelcome tales of cock and fanny.

But I have always remembered the story of the tree, and I suppose my mother must have remembered it too until she became demented, and I think she was surely at her happiest then, with her husband and baby, and the Italian family to whom I believe she was close. There is a dark photo of my mother with me, quite a small baby, sitting on her lap, and we are totally surrounded by a group of dark, closely-packed, and slightly drunken-looking people who must surely be the Maccariello family, because I do not recognise them.

For, just as with my father, I did not know the Maccariellos at a time I can remember. I think my mother must have quarrelled with my godfather Gennaro, or with his sister Concetta (for old Mrs Maccariello, whom she had respected deeply, died in 1957), because we never called at the house on our journeys to London, just passed it.  I never knew my own godfather, and met my father only twice after babyhood.

And I have been haunted all my life by the time when I lived in harmony with other people. It has never been recaptured. At a table of convivial people, I am remembering what I must keep from them. With one other person sometimes I relax and can be truly myself. Yet I never wholly let go. The barriers between me and others could only dissolve if I had a master, and then my sickness might be broken, myself too, though, perhaps.

In recent years I have sometimes tried to get in touch with the Maccariellos. Anthony Adolph, the researcher I replied, contacted a number of them of them on my behalf, but only Gennaro's Polish widow Teresa Stasinski left a short phone message, from which we obtained her number. I phoned her when I was in Dresden in 2011, but she was not forthcoming. Later, I tried several times to email Concetta's daughter Catherine Tamara, who has become the well-known choreographer Tamara McLorg, but she did not answer. I have seen her on a numbers of films on Youtube where she talks about her work, and one very impressive one on another website where she dances with a male partner and, although going on for seventy, is able to fall gracefully to the floor. She looks and sounds an intelligent and charismatic person, and I would love to meet her.

Yet there is an unhealthiness in my attempts to recover this mythical past. How often I go now to where 19, Hornsey Rise stood, where the Philip Noel-Baker Peace Garden blooms now within Elthorne Park. But what can I gain from a park where once was a house, people with whom I was once intimate and will probably never know?

There is a photograph of me when I was a baby at that house. I am sitting in a pram, smiling all over my face, cuddling my teddy bear, whom I so obsessively loved. I am confident, just a little condescending, in the success of my love. My friend Stephen used to say that I was already recognisably myself in this picture.

My love of Teddy went on for years. My mother used to treasure something I said to her when I was a child, and repeat it often, "We are two Mummies, aren't we, Mummy? You are my Mummy, and I am Teddy Bear's Mummy!"

Yet eventually I lost Teddy, threw him away, and I have never been able to remember the circumstances in which this happened. It lies forever irrecoverable in the dark years of my childhood. Teddy was just there and I loved him and then he was gone.

And how often this pattern has recurred during all the years of my life. Someone, or something, has meant something to me, sometimes deeply, sometimes for a long time. And then something has happened, or perhaps nothing at all. And my heart has turned against that person, that place, that thing, forever. And I have felt no regret, only a sweet pain.

I damaged that photo of myself as a baby with Teddy. When I was at Oxford, I was going away for part of the first summer, but was due to return, and left that one and another photo, with more things, exposed, in a damp storeroom. The other photo showed me looking happy and normal as a child of about eight, standing by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When I returned to the storeroom, the photo of me by the Eiffel Tower was spoiled beyond recovery, and the photo of me and Teddy could just about be salvaged and was recognisable. How deeply I mourned the picture that could not be recovered, and for many years this loss was a grief that afflicted me terribly, often as I lay in bed at night.

But I had the other photo restored, and in its fine frame it still adorns the bookcase in my house in Portugal, to which at some point I must return. Then, if all be well, I will bring it back, carefully wrapped, to be with me in London.

And gradually I told myself about the image by the Eiffel Tower that it was only the first of so many things we must lose. And indeed I have lost innumerable objects now, and cherish the ones I still have, and the others I let go. My heart has become inured to grief, and I feel only a sweet regret.

It comes sometimes, for instance, when as so often these winter days, I go to the Shaftesbury Tavern, a friendly and roomy pub, with a sofa by an open fire, and chandeliers reflecting the darkness of the skylight, and friendly, uncomprehending people, and old photographs showing the area of my earliest days. For this pub is almost opposite where 19, Hornsey Rise once stood, a little bit farther towards London, opposite the beginning of Elthorne Park and still in Hornsey Road rather than Hornsey Rise.

One of the photographs on the pub wall is labelled Hornsey Rise, but it really shows the very top of Hornsey Road, and the range of houses in Hornsey Rise from 1 to 19 can just be glimpsed on the horizon, and our house is not visible. And, much as I have searched for a photograph of our house, I have never found it. And I do not know if any of the many many I have in my own collection show the house full on.

So I have lost 19, Hornsey Rise as well, and perhaps I will never even see an image of it, unless perhaps one day I could contact Tamara McLorg or another of her relations. Yet there is a sweetness in sitting by that fire with my gin and bitter lemon and not quite being able to see the house. What do |I want as I sit by that fire? Only the journey home on the 91 and my comfortable bed. Not the house. Not a useless image of it.

I suppose I must have finally lost Teddy at around the period that I was finally expelled from my mother's bed. For he was surely a symbol of her, or perhaps, more exactly, a symbol of what I owed to her. Perhaps I threw him away, perhaps in a great rage I threw him in the bin. I shall never know.

And yet I still have my tenderness for all the Teddies of the world, but that has become part of my masochism, which has a touch of sadism in it as well. I long to suffer and also to inflict, but I am impotent to cause suffering, except in words, usually at least. I long to be delivered from the urge to inflict, and for that I must find a man who will be worthy to cause the suffering he inflicts, the father, the son, I did not know.

It is a pipe-dream. But I want nothing else at all, except perhaps a comfortable journey towards death.

And it seems to have come so early, when I was still the smiling, happy baby in the pram. My mother often used to tell that, when I was only two months old, I had rejected her milk, putting my tongue out at the prospect of it. I caused her pain, because she had so much milk to give. But, as the years went on, and our relations became worse, she told the story with increasing relish. On the night before she told me of her betrayal, the last night of our love, when my friend Bill Hicks was in my flat with us, she made the motion of my vomiting with especial violence. She must have been preparing herself for what she would say on the morrow.

Oh, will I ever recover my love for you, my dear one? Perhaps only when I am very old and can remember no more.

Then it will be like the deep past of my infancy, which I also cannot remember, but of which I have so many photos, spilling out of their bags and folders and the little Scottish box on the wet mornings in my small white room, to stimulate my heart to love and justice. This morning I did not find the only one in which my parents and I are together. I didn't look for it that hard. I was just charmed by the ones I saw.

There is the photo, for instance, where I am helping my mother to hang clothes on the line in the garden in Crawley when I am about two years old. She really cherished that one. That is just me and her. And often she used to tell me of how. when we were still in London, she used to wheel me in my pram as far as Seven Sisters Road and what she called "Negzed" [the Nag's Head]. And there is a photo of my in my pram in a very shabby street which must have been taken in that area, and one of my mother striding along those same streets in smart clothes with Augusta. That was the pram that the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon had bought for me before my birth, in gratitude for my mother's help in bringing her to London. That rebarbative woman will always have my loyalty. 

It was a long way you went, Mum. How strong you were. And you used to take me to work with you when you went to work at the house of Mrs Kafka who lived on Crouch Hill. I have no photos of that, but marvel that you looked after me so well and held down a job at the same time. And how cheerful and happy you look in the photos with the Maccariellos, old Mrs Maccariello with her hunched back, Concetta dark and stern, the black dog Romanha (I suppose she was Romana to the Italians), who was such fun.

But the one I tried to find today was a photograph of family and duty. Although I did not find it, I remember it well.  My mother is sitting on a chair in a back yard, looking serene, with me, a tiny infant, in her arms. My father is standing by us in an attitude of protectiveness and authority. There is no other photo in which his physique looks so powerful under his suit. He is really handsome in family mode.

Yet it will so soon turn out to be a lie, that photo. Within a year or two he will leave us. Perhaps he was not philandering at that time, but he soon will be. Perhaps Isaura, the devil woman of my mother's life, is already in the frame.

And my mother will never forget the wrong he is to do her. I remember how we were together in her bedroom at Altura on the morning when we were waiting for my aunt Eva and uncle Manuel to take us hundreds of miles to the first of the dreadful homes where she was to end her life. She remembered him then. I heard her moan again and again in her dementia, "Nao era nem bom marido nem bom pai,", "He wasn't a good husband, or a good father either." I thought she was talking about Arthur. But it must have been Dad.

Sad, indeed. But for testimony that he really loved us I still have all those photos and also the book my father wrote about me, the little "Diario de Carlinhos". He never finished all the pages of the book, but there are quite a few in his neat, slightly florid handwriting, written in a fluent and charming style, but sometimes betraying his foreign origin. It begins, "Baby sat up on his own on 31-5-56 [a foreign style of dating, and these figures are crossed out], 31st January 1956, or five and a quarter months old." 

Then he tells the story of how on my "second monthly anniversary" I refused my mother's breast "with tongue out and sick face". And,, "When he was five-and-a-half months old he called our attention with a dignified cough". Those are the contents of the first small page.

And then the next pages tell of how at five months I recognised the noise of "paw-paws" (my word for buses) and could find Daddy or Romanha, of how at six-and-a-half months I said Papa and Mama - he gives the date, 5-3-56, and the figures are the right way round this time - and a bit later he tells how at eight months my parents bought me a push-chair at Jones Brothers, which was a department store in Holloway Road and they took it back because there was something wrong in the wheel and I became concerned until they bought another one.

The first four and a half pages refer to the time that we were in London, and then there is a change of the pen Dad is using, from blue to black, towards the end of the last paragraph that deals with Hornsey Rise. I therefore surmise that this first section was written soon after we arrived at 104, Brighton Road, when they suddenly thought that they must write down everything about my early life before they forgot it. So they probably bought the book, which is an autograph book, in the centre of Crawley and perhaps my father wrote the first section when they got home as Mum watched.

"He came to Crawley at 10 months. Every part of his house delighted him. When he arrived he started to clap his hands and scream to the walls, and he noticed every bit that went on, stair carpet, curtains, lino, and applauded in this way. When he saw carpet on the stairs he soon learnt to walk up the stairs supported."

The last thing my father tells about Hornsey Rise is that I never wanted to come inside. He says I liked to sit in a high-chair by the window and when people went away from me (he spells the word "him" as "hime") I became upset.

And he continues his account of our new life: "In Crawley he became mad on going out and when out he became abstracted. He became very fond of all road traffic and especially loved to ride on bues, raising his foot to the step of the 'bus to get on. When he arrived home, he recognised the gate and screamed not to go in. All this at eleven months." And he goes on to list all the words I could say at that age, all eight of them, ending with "tadinha (tadine)", which I think was my version of "coitadinha", "poor little thing". And then he says: "At eleven months when he saw Mummy with coat and handbag he was sure he was going out, and screamed "paw-paw"."

Dad, I do love the way you talk about me. Now let's go on through the Crawley time. There is one photo of  you with me in the back garden there, which I treasure. And what about the book? "At eleven months, when naughty, Mummy promised him, "queres ir vir o paw-paw?" [do you want to go and catch the bus?], and he became quiet and full of hope.

"He knew how to lay his head against ours and say "ter-dine" very sweetly.

At a year old, he knew how to find a "sabotinho" ["little shoe", not really Portuguese, where the word would be "sapatinho" - perhaps my father's mistake] and give it to Mummy."

Now there is a change of tense on the new page, and there has been a change of pen at the end of the last one, which makes me think Dad has begun to write a new section. "He does everything mummy tells him. He enjoys to see Anna Maria and Paul, who are two kids Mummy decided to look after. At one years old he walked as far as the "Half Moon" on one hand."

The Half Moon was the pub a little farther up Brighton Road from us, and it is still there. I know much less about Anna Maria and Paul. I vaguely remember my mother mentioning them in my childhood, but I didn't take much notice. I had entirely forgotten about them until I read about them, with surprise, in the book. And I then mentioned them to Maria and Brian, but they were alarmed and rather roughly said they knew nothing about these two children, although they must have done.

Because Brian was vaguely around in our lives at this time. He was a youth of around nineteen and had grown up with his family at Pease Pottage, which is just south of Crawley. He was doing his national service in later 1956 and he has told me that he often used to pass our house and notice who was there. He said something that startled me, that the house was full of people. But I remember it from my childhood with my mother and Arthur as deathly quiet, just the two of them and myself, and hardly ever any visitors.

It was so different, apparently, when my father was with us. Besides my parents and myself, I now learn there were Anna Maria and Paul. And the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon once told me that Arthur also moved down to Crawley and was occupying a house nearby. And the old man, according to Brian, was also often there. And surely their friends from London would often have come down. There is a photograph, for instance, of Leonor with her husband Arthur Mills standing in front of our house, and Leonor used sometimes to tell me a funny story of how she was pushing me in a pram in Crawley and my shoe came off and was in the road.

And could we have known Brian and his family in Pease Pottage better than he now lets on? As I leaf through the book, I see that my father, after telling about the games I used to play with Anna Maria and Paul, how I was mad on going out and on walking, and how I began to tease my mother by walking off another way when he told me to walk to her, Dad recalls the following visit: "About fourteen-and-a-half months we went to a cafe at Pease Pottage. Sonny sat properly in a chair, the cafe was full, and he looked at everyone very surprised. Mummy gave him some crisps and when Mummy forgot to supply him with more, he helped himself properly and gently out of the bag. Then he did a "rock and roll" with Mummy." 

Oh, what fun life sounds in those days, the days that were so rapidly coming to their end!

My father mentions Paul again, that he went away to his relatives for fortnight, and how I cuddled him when he came back, "shouting with cheers". He says that when they spoke to me in a low voice I would answer in the same tone of voice. And then, most touchingly, "He always cuddled us sweetly, both waking and when he lay between us in the bed."

Paul, who is ill, then goes away again, and "at every little noise in the morning Carlinhos imagined it was Paul. This was at fifteen-and-a-half months." So it would have been coming up for the Christmas of 1956.

This little bit about Paul is written in a pen of its own, and on the next page he tells about how I had many motor cars at that age and would improvise more vehicles with vegetables and pieces of meat, and how I liked to pile vegetables into a little lorry and drive behind it.

"His favourite photo at this age was of five girls. He recognised his mummy, and all his aunties." I still have this photo, a little torn now, showing the five serious, well-dressed, dark young women. It does not show all my aunts, though. The eldest sister Maria remained on the farm, was forced into marriage by Ana das Meias, her husband beat her when he was drunk, she had ten (or possibly nine) children, and my mother always said that the other sisters did not regard her as really their sister. No photograph exists of all six sisters together. My aunty Maria appears in another photo of much later years, taken at or near her farmhouse, but Rosaria was dead by then, and a blonde woman stood in her place, as Portuguese custom demands.

Now I hurry towards the end of the little book. My father records that I walked steadily on my own in a direction of my choosing on 18th December 1956, when I was just under sixteen months old. I was much slower at walking than at talking. Verbal skills have always been my forte, not physical ones. But my father also says that since early days I had never cried at the clinic, while the others cried a lot. "He always gave a smile to the woman of the scales. And he always made pee-pee in the scales." My father catches quite a lot about me there. I have endurance. I know how to smile sweetly at others while I am preparing to do exactly what I want.

"At nineteen months he gave up completely naps and when he felt as to do wee-wee or duty he rushed to mummy, doing Ah-Ah and dancing.

He became very fond of trains, and wherever we were near the station he recognised a train was coming if the gates were closed. He always made a fuss about coming away from the station."

(I am still most fond of trains, indeed of all forms of transport, except cars, which I have never learnt to drive, so I cannot be fond of them. Trains, watching them and travelling on them, are a real passion, though, the time I feel most at peace. With music, reading and walking, I most love trains.)

"Paul went away to another new town, Hemel Hempsted, and he became very fond of Anna Maria, and called her "nenna"."

(Among the vast collection of personal memorabilia I now possess, much of which I found at my mother's house in Portugal, is a small label saying Hemel Hempsted and giving the address details of A.E. Hills, the house in Crawley, in capital letters. I always took it for granted that this was written by Arthur, although I suppose it might be my father impersonating him. It looks more like Arthur's writing, though. The woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, once when I was questioning her about the two men, said that Arthur had also moved down to Crawley, taking a house there, at the same time as my parents. His job as a costs and works accountant at APV on the Manor Royal Industrial Estate must have begun at this time. 

My father then goes on to tell that at 20 months I was "extremely naughty". I used to smack Mummy, and she smacked me back, but I never gave up. I called my Mum "maminlinha". And I have never lost my fondness for elaborate diminutives in the Latin languages, Portuguese and Italian. For instance, I used the nickname for my friend Stephen of Bambi, which often became Bambinello or even Bambinelinho, but not to his face, for fear of annyoing him.)

I now come to the last two-and-a-half pages of this small book of 27 pages (counting the title page, the last page with just three-and-a bit lines). I quote the final two paragraphs in full:

"We had a cat named Cinders, and she was run over near the bus stop. Carlinhos went out with his mummy to look for her and saw her lying the road. For three weeks after he always went to that spot as he passed to the town and called "Ba-ba" and looked down in the road.

At 19 months he recognised the noise of a passing 'bus very well, there was no possibility of deceiving him. He loved all animals and wanted to carress [sic] them ass well as all unknown children. His mother used to say he had a large heart."

It is a beautiful tribute my father pays to my tenderness at the end of the little book he wrote about me. I believe I do love all animals, all children, all people, all plants, even the stones themselves. But this love has been distorted by my life. It is not a loving smile people will see as I travel around London now. I have never kept an animal in adulthood. I do not tend plants. I have never loved a person. I pray that perhaps this alienation will enable me better to love everybody and everything. Or that I find the one I can love again.

The book my father wrote contains no reference to me after the age of twenty months. which would have been in April or May 1957. Those telling words about my mother - "used to say" - imply that they were written when he was no longer with us. At the beginning of the book is written his co-op number, which he would surely not have included if he had been in the full swing of married life. I believe he wrote that last section when he was already away from us and that he sent the book to my mother as a token of the love he felt for me.

As I have mentioned before, I know that a group of us went by ship to Lisbon some time in the summer of 1957, and I have a small, blue, very worn photograph album recording this trip, with several photos of my father, sometimes looking rather decadent and louche, on shore, with my mother and other members of my family. It therefore makes sense, with the other evidence, to believe that he deserted us very soon after this trip, and perhaps did not even return to Crawley.

My aunt Eva will say nothing at all about this trip, but the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon, who also formed part of the party, once let slip that, once my mother and my aunt had arrived, they went ashore immediately and left my father for some time on the boat. The woman says she stayed with him on the boat, and that this was because she felt sorry for him. 

Perhaps she did. But there could have been other motives. He was an attractive man in his dangerous-looking way. And she is a big, rebarbative woman. My aunt once told me that, when young, this person had once attacked a fellow young woman and hurt her badly. She has spoken with scorn to me about how I am not a real man. She married an elderly Portuguese late in life, and inherited substantial wealth from him. But whatever passion this natural spinster felt cannot have been for him.

And, thinking of my father, one can imagine that a husband arriving for the first time in his wife's native city might well feel very hurt and angry not to be deemed worthy to accompany his wife ashore. Perhaps a quarrel had developed on the journey out. It would surely have been exacerbated by this gesture on the part of the sisters. And perhaps my father looks louche and faintly evil in at least one of the picture, where he is holding my mother in his arm, because his thoughts are already on the road elsewhere.

I do not know exactly when the Lisbon voyage occurred, but because the last reference in the small book refers to me at twenty months, it makes sense to believe it was soon after that. Let us say it was in June 1957. I went to the British National Archives to try and find a reference to us as passengers on a likely boat, but found nothing for certain. The records of sea voyages at this time only include those that began or ended outside Europe, and it is possible that this voyage was simply from England to Portugal. But there was a record of one boat going out to Australia and stopping at Lisbon and other places, travelling in June 1957, and carrying an elderly Catholic priest by the name of Arthur Ernest Hills.

Now my aunt and the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon have always denied that my paternal grandfather was with us on the boat. But at a certain point I found a small photo of the evil old man, standing with my mother, with me in her arms, all of us looking very spaced out, standing at what is obviously the rail of a ship. Quite recently I confronted my aunt with this photo, and for a few moments she became equivocal about whether or not he had been on the 1957 trip. Then she went back to her earlier firm denial.

But let us say the whole party was travelling incognito, as may well have been the case, I can picture that disguising his identity as a Catholic priest might well have appealed to my grandfather's savage humour. I had the record of the whole passenger list for this boat photocopied at the archive, a pretty substantial numbers of pages, took it to Portugal on my last trip out there, and, because it was quite heavy, and other things seemed more vital, did not bring it back to England with me. I therefore do not remember much about the details, what port in Britain it sailed from, even the name of the boat. 

The main part of the list of passengers was a solid phalanx of Anglo-Saxon names. But at the end there was a short appendix recording foreign nationals on the boat. Among these were several who could be the members of our party incognito, including one family who sound rather exotic and whom I remember were stateless, but whose name and final destination I again do not remember.

Of course there is absolutely no proof that this is the ship we travelled on, and it is perhaps not even likely. The name of the priest is striking, though. This boat was sailing on to Australia, and I think it was also to stop at Colombo, although I do not suppose many of its passengers disembarked there. Most would have been going to Australia, the land of opportunity. There is one curious aspect of the photograph album of this trip to Lisbon. Nowhere does the woman who lives in the centre of Lisbon appear in them. She had stayed with my father initially on the boat. It would have stopped at Lisbon several days and then gone on. Perhaps this taciturn woman went with it. Ditto my grandfather.

The photographs that date from this trip are very memorable and traditional - the savage ceremonies of the bullfight and the wild excitement of bull running, the towers of the town palace of Sintra (we got lost in the woods round there, I remember my mother saying), the traditionally dressed people of the countryside. There is one photograph which shows my mother with her father and a woman who does not appear to be his wife, I have often seen her image elsewhere and I have seen often elsewhere and vaguely remember her.

My mother is standing up close and affectionate against this elderly woman, who is wearing a smile both benevolent and sinister, and my maternal grandfather wears a twinkle in his eye and this is in contrast to the images of my mother with Marcelina de Jesus and where she typically looks very distant and they seem uncomfortable.

I therefore believe this may be the only surviving photographic record of my grandmother Ana das Meias, who was to die later in 1957 and whom I know from the indication I have cited earlier in this post - "Mange, mange, bambino...." - that I am likely to have met for the one and only time during this trip. Good I was with her once. Just once.

And now I come to the story of the years spent under the shadow of Arthur Ernest Hills, and the long years since then, which were mainly times of unhappiness and frustration, until I reached the period of today, dominated by chilly indifference. Many thousands were the opportunities I sought to exploit during that time, and the ambiguous people met in the course of my attempts at winning ways, and the partings involved in the rejections that ensued. If I were to try to tell anything like the whole of this story, the present post would go on for ever and memory itself scream. So I must become very selective from now on, and tell only the things relating to the intertwined stories of myself and my mother, or to another story which arises from our joint experience yet is apart from it.

Arthur Ernest Hills must have taken my father's place quite seamlessly. He seems already to have been in Crawley, and presumably at his job with APV. So he would simply have had to give up the tenancy of wherever he was living under a false name and take up the tenancy where he was already registered. The two men were so similar they could pass for each other. Even their handwriting was similar. If they spoke, my father would have been revealed by his German accent. But we were one of the first families to arrive at the yellow coloured-coded Southgate estate and we had been there less than a year. My father simply left his job, presumably. A bit later he sent back the little book about me and added his co-op number. I bet that gave my mother a rent in the heart.

We lived in a row of six yellow houses, with flats at either end, on the Old Brighton Road. The Parrs lived at No 100, the Derbys at No 102, we were at No 104, the Cresseys were 106, the Hobbses 108, and the families at No 110 were constantly changing and we did not know them. There was a lay-by in front of the houses, where in later childhood I was to obsessively play a ball. Beyond the road was a green in earlier years, and beyond that the Crawley Bypass, which was not very busy in the 1950s, and where a touch of colour was added once a year by the passing of the veteran cars from London to Brighton.

The six houses were small, functional and more or less identical. Our house had one special touch. Above the door was the sculpted head of a woman, which was green, although she had full lips and these may have been painted red. The significance of this image I shall never know.

Beyond our road was Southgate, with many roads of yellow houses and some flats, a couple of junior schools for Protestants and Catholics, a doctor's surgery, and the Southgate shops, where my first memory (very faint) is of being held up by my mother to see the Queen when she visited the new town in June 1958. 

From the corner beyond the flats adjoining No 110, Southgate Avenue ran towards the town centre, between Southgate and Tilgate, and this was the route to the public library, which I was to haunt so persistently in my troubled teenage years. The modern part of the town centre was arranged around Queens Square, and there was an old part to Crawley, where was to be the Chantley Bookshop, kept by Miss Oxley and Miss Marchant, kindly ladies who came in from Horsham. I loved their bookshop, although I stole from them.

But that is running ahead a bit. Another faint early memory is of an attack of measles when I was about three. It left me blind for three days. And I had no idea what was happening and thought I would be blind forever. And my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills could not help me. The feeling of desolation I have had all my life dates from this time.

Another minatory memory. I am about four and they try to throw a children's party for me. But I get upset and the other children leave. There is an ominous photograph of me by a table which is laid for a party. But I am alone.

And the third instance of helplessness, which dates from when I was about five. For many years I believed this to be my first memory. I am running from the house to our car in the lay-by. We had a heavy, old-fashioned Wyvern. But on the pavement I miss my step and do not quite reach the car. Arthur Ernest Hills is inside or near it. But I do not reach him.

There is another early memory which was related to me often by my mother, although I do not believe I remember it myself. We were together at the bus-stop, which was a little further up Brighton Road towards Crawley town centre, and some English people were waiting there. I was about three years old. Prejudice against foreigners was openly expressed in England in the 1950s. One of these people said to my mother, "Why don't you go back to where you come from? And take your child with you?"

In contrast to these negative early memories of England, there is one early one relating to Portugal which is exuberant and happy. It dates from 1959, when I was four years old, and I know this because we went to Portugal in the Wyvern, which was new then, to fetch Maria, who was eighteen years old, or perhaps a bit older (there is a mystery about her birth certificate), to live with us in England. And I remember that on a hillside near where that family lived, I was excitingly bumped about by Maria and her sister Maria Augusta and they were each holding me by either arm. Maria Augusta, who stayed in Portugal and married there, later committed suicide. Maria is alive and well as I write.

Maria lived with us for four years, and there is a picture, which must date from that time, of she and me mother sitting in deckchairs and laughing and being silly, and looking for all the world like mother and daughter. But that is not officially what Maria was to my mother. She married Brian in 1963, and they went to live nearby at 15, Malthouse Road for a while, before moving to their present address in Crawley, also not far away, where they have remained for around fifty years.

Brian had a stroke recently, which has slowed him down, but he is still his own cheerful, determined, ironic, mildly authoritarian self. Maria still does the garden, and laughs and is silent, and looks after her husband with patience and love. I speak to them often on the phone, and visit them once a year, and I feel Maria and Brian are the dearest people in the world, in so far as any human beings can be dear to me.

My mother once was, though. I did not go to nursery school. I was always by her side, so often in her arms My attendance at school, at the age of five, when the Freudian distancing from the mother should ideally have begun, was always likely to be a trauma. I went to St Francis Catholic Infants' and Junior School in Southgate. My first three months there were sweetened by my kind and beautiful infant teacher Miss Brennan. But after three months I was transferred to Miss Carney's class. Miss Carney did not like me, nor I her. I kicked up an enormous fuss to be returned to Miss Brennan, but I was refused.

The Parrs at No 100 had a daughter called Janice, and up to the age of five I had often played with her. But at five she went to the English, Protestant school, and now I did not play with her any more. Now I had no friends.

Arthur Ernest Hills had a bad stammer. From around the age of five I began to stammer too. Initially it was debilitating, now it remains as what I am told is a charming hesitation.

I was beginning to be a problem child. At the infants, they tried to teach us sewing, but I was entirely unable to manage it. The pattern of incomprehension at my universal incapacity set in. Why can't you do it? It's so easy! Those types of words are always ringing in my head, to my eternal shame. Later was to come the three-way battle between Arthur and the school on the one hand and my mother on the other about the fact that I could not do up my shoelaces. I suffered agonies of shame and even now cannot wear laced-up shoes and must wear slip-ons because the laces constantly come undone and people point it out endlessly but they will do nothing to help and I cannot help myself.

But soon came my salvation. I was immensely quick at reading, writing too. Writing, as well as my mother, became the centre of my life. And writing remains an eternal solace. Any hurt received in life now sees me rushing to the screen to receive its bitter balm.

I realise now that, in telling of earliest memories, I have been straying rather from the ostensible subject of my mother's life (although I was so close to her that I still believe that, in some strange way, we share the same identity). And, of course I wonder how she reacted to the substitution of my father by the slightly stinky figure of Arthur.

My aunt Eva has often said in recent years that she used to ask my mother how she could bear to be married to such a man, and she always quotes my mother´s answer, "Oh, but he was so kind." My mother often used to say that he always brought her a cup of tea in the morning in bed and that she had appreciated that. Arthur was good at that sort of small, formal courtesy, although his uncertainty with women, and indeed with everyone, was profound. And I don't suppose my father brought tea. He was too much the old German soldier. When he was not at the front, the wife would do that for him. And at the double.

Mum also used to stay that Arthur had been a very dirty little man when he came to her, and that she had taught him to be clean. Yet he had his social smartness too, part of his conservatism. He must have been one of the last men in England to wear a bowler hat to work. I can remember him wearing it, so that must have been in 1961 and 1962. He used to walk to and from and the Manor Royal Industrial Estate, where he soon progressed from clerk to quite a serious accountant. And he used to arrive home punctually at a certain time - six, I believe - like the fine gentleman in the film Mary Poppins.

And we had first the heavy Wyvern car, and that was replaced by the Dormobile, and, unusually in England, my father, as I believed him then to be, insisted on taking all his holiday entitlement in one go (almost always in August) and we went abroad every other year, and finally every year, until, in 1968, relations became so bad between Arthur and my mother that our family holidays ceased.

Because, of course, despite the cups of tea, the bowler hat and the Dormobile, relations between my mother and Arthur were increasingly unhappy. She must always have been missing my father, resenting his desertion, resenting Isaura. And although she shared so many of her feelings with me, and I sympathised in every detail, as much as I was able, the fact that the man who was with us was not my father, that she could not share.

Her tenderness to me was wonderful. I could give so many examples, stupid and sentimental things. I will just mention one thing. Whenever I had hurt myself, my knee for example, she would ask to look most solicitously, saying what sounded like "Sheberee."
I remember that again from my childhood, "Sheberee, Sheberee." When I began to learn Portuguese as an adult, I puzzled for quite some years as to what this word could have been. Finally a kind teacher, Francisco Fernandes who taught Portuguese at the City Literary Institute, explained that it must be "Deixa ver,", "Let me see." I was astonished. Portuguese is a language that does not reveal its secrets in one day or in several.

When I was a child, my mother worked in factories on the Manor Royal Industrial Industrial Estate, where Arthur was now a certified accountant. It was hard and thankless work, below what her rare intelligence would have entitled her to. She was the best and quickest worker those factories had known. When her marriage to Arthur broke up, she became a silver service waitress. Once again Maria was the first to be called to go to work, so competent, so quick, so smiling was she.

I adored her. I thought every aspect of her was wonderful. As far as I knew, she was the best cook in the whole world. There could be no competitor. Sometimes we had roast lamb with roast potatoes and vegetables for Sunday lunch. What I loved most about this meal were her roast carrots. How silly it sounds now! How could I ever convey the wonder those carrots were to me?

Very often she would make trifle. She prepared the cake base for this in a special bowl. How I loved to sit with her in the kitchen as she worked, and when she was finished, to be allowed to lick the remains of what was in the bowl.

I used to love to read to her from the books that I enjoyed, increasingly books of history, English history. How she entered into the stories of the terrible Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives and children. What patience she had with my endless reading, what she must have known were my total mispronunciations of Italian names, such as as that of the Papal Legate, Campeggio, who had tried to persuade Henry out of his divorce. Did she ever once correct me, or try to make me feel I didn't know as much as I thought I did?

And how much we both loved Mary, Queen of Scots, and how we sorrowed that the heartless Elizabeth had executed her, and how I laughed at the strange gesture my mother always made with her elbow when the book mentioned that Elizabeth was a virgin!

And then I remember the time when I was perhaps eight years old and we watched the film "A Night to Remember" on the television together. It told the story of the sinking of the Titanic in heartrending detail. And as the moment came when all the unfortunate people were finally helpless in the sea, or dying within the bowels of the ship, as the disciplined musicians played "Nearer My God to Thee", I burst into floods of helpless tears and could not accept what my mother told me, that suffering and death exist in the world, and we can do nothing about it.

But nowadays, when I hear of the migrant ships sinking in the Mediterranean, and unknown people going to their watery deaths, there is no fellow-feeling in my heart. Quite the reverse. I hope that more and more people will die, and that they will not be rescued, so that these Africans will finally learn that they cannot simply invade another continent and people of a different culture and expect to live in the process. I am as Malthusian, as Darwinian, perhaps even as Hitlerian as you like these days.

Something has happened to me during my life, and I can sum it up best by saying it has been a switch from love to hatred. Of course, experience has partly been the motor, but the driver of the car was my mother. I am like Estella in Great Expectations, with all her cold complexity and simple at the core. I have been trained not to love.

My mother said to me: Love me! Love me! Love me! While I could love her, I loved. And when I hated her, I hated. And my mother's end was as Gothic as Miss Havisham's.

But back, back to the past. As I've said before, the highlights of my childhood were the foreign holidays. We went to Portugal when I was two, four, six and eight, and then about two or perhaps three times more. I've written about the first journey, by boat, and the second, in the Wyvern. I have several rather deeply-buried memories of the other journeys and will share some of them now.

First, after we had crossed the Channel, was the long journey through France, which was usually an evening, a night and much of the following day; But it cannot have been exactly like that with the memory I want to evoke now. There always seemed to be something special about passing a place called Ruffec. I remembered its significance every time I came there. It was like the heart of our journey.

It is a small place between Poitiers and Angoulême. And I think perhaps it was near there that once I persuaded my parents to desert the main road and take a detour through a more country road that led after a longer while to the same place. I wanted to get lost in the deep heart of my journey. I seem to remember (although it may be a false memory) that the length of the journey along this road was forty-eight miles. And they went along the longer road, although they were reluctant and afraid, because I think it was evening.

And in Spain there was no question of taking picturesque routes through deep country. I remember the times in the Basque Country when we came to the "smelly river" and my mother and I would hold our noses in mocl horror, while Arthur, who might be driving at the time, would turn to us in mild amusement. And then the roads would be long with the sun in our eyes until we came to the towers of Ciudad Rodrigo in the distance and we knew our Portugal was near. And I remember our the joy at the Portuguese border, the fear of the Spanish officials, the love of ours. 

And the excitement of reaching Lisbon, and the cramped quarters of the two aunts who lived there (for two others were in Africa): Tia Conceicao's ramshackle upper rooms above the grocer's shop in Algés where she lived with Tio Albino in some happiness but without children; and Tia Eva's neat white bungalow by the aqueduct, where she lived with the husband she loved with exaggeration, the son she loved with desperation, and the daughter she bullied.

Aunt Conceiçao was to move away from Algés after Tio Albino died early and in later years lived in a grim flat at Loures in the northern further outskirts of Lisbon which I visited rarely. But I have been again and again throughout my life to the home of Eva, to the green bungalow among the white ones by the aqueduct's bell-tower, and the landscape of the Alcântara Valley, with its interlocking roads, railway lines and the aqueduct, the modern skyscrapers that have sprung up in later years on the Lisbon side of the valley, and the shabby ramshackle houses on the other side at the edge of the Monsanto wood, and the station of Campolide at the centre of the landscape, this undistinguished yet strangely memorable panorama that is the last link with my childhood, for my aunt lives there still.

And I remember going out from there with my family and relations to the beach at Carcavelos, and after that to the pine woods behind the beach to have our picnic, and in  earlier years at least a film of happiness seems to lie over that beach and those woods.

 But there  is only one truly happy memory. It is perhaps from the time I was eight. We were coming away from Portugal, travelling across Spain, and my mother became wonderfully cheerful and animated in the car and started teaching me the numbers from one to twenty in all the languages that she knew (Arthur used to say, "I don't need a dictionary when I travel abroad, my wife is a walking dictionary").

And I learnt them so easily and well and pleased her greatly. And I remember how when she came to say the numbers in Italian, she said them so rapidly - "undici, dodici, tredici, quattordici, quindici..." - they seemed to trip over each other as she said them and yet I was able to follow her, and laughed so much, and I loved her so much.

Another memory, again perhaps from the time I was eight, this one deeply equivocal in my mind. We were going through France. I always loved this preliminary to our Portugal holiday. There were no motorways in France then. I loved the long, mysterious roads, the ancient towns and villages, the solemn trees that shaded us. They let me be the navigator, using the route-books. I loved doing that. And as evening approached once that first day, I seem to remember, we came to a campsite by the river Yon.

And I was mad to swim in that river. I wanted the freedom, my joy. But my mother and Arthur were anxious. The river was dangerous for a boy. They held a long, anxious discussion in the Dormobile. Perhaps I would try to slip away once they had gone to sleep. Perhaps I would drown in that river. They were very tired after their long afternoon's driving. But they made their decision. We would go on to the next campsite.

Arthur Ernest Hills really was my father on that day. My mother must have felt truly close to him that evening, deeply loved and protected by him, really that he was the head of the family. And perhaps they saved my life. For what it has been worth.

The most frightening part of our trips to Portugal came at the end. As I have related before in this blog, my mother and Arthur were engaged in international smuggling from Portugal into England, I do not know of what or on what scale. Passing through customs at the British channel port is a memory so frightening that for many years it was entirely blocked in my mind. Then I remembered, in circumstances I shall be describing more fully later in this post, that once we had travelled all night tin northern France o enter by a different port than originally intended, I think St-Malo rather than perhaps Dieppe.

When I was nine and ten, in 1964 and 1965, we went to Germany and Austria and to Italy, I am almost sure it was in that order, and from these two trips I have a series of rather phantasmagorical memories. As we approached Vienna on the inward journey I became aware of all the churches with onion-domes, and gained the clear impression that we were entering the East. It is my first memory where I show historical consciousness. History was already my favourite subject at school, and I became mad to know more history, and decided I wanted to visit Berlin, so that I could investigate the Nazi past. I thought it might be near where we were, not miles away. I broached this idea to Arthur Ernest Hills and evoked one of his sudden, mysterious bursts of rage. "I will not visit bloody Berlin!" I can still hear him shouting.

They liked Vienna, though - I suppose it had no memories for him - and I can still remember them driving me around and pointing out how splendid the buildings were. We stayed at a campsite in the western outskirts of the city, at a place called Huteldorf Hacking (I visited that campsite many years later, during the years I was wandering around Europe, it brought me a sort of peace). 

They became very short of money on that German and Austrian trip, and the final memory I have of it is of stopping for a meal somewhere in Bavaria and being served by a large blonde woman and of them being immensely grateful that they had been served so much food and so cheaply. They said it showed how nice Germany was, how nice German people were. And I was glad to share this feeling with them, because the publicity I received about Germany in England was not good, yet I already felt an affinity with things German, which had made me so want to see Berlin.

The trip to Italy was the next year, and just as with him we had not gone to Berlin, so with her we did not go to Naples (or at least I did not), we went together as far as Rome. My mother was very lively at the beginning of the trip, full of her love of funny people and jokes. She became very amused in northern France about a French boy who thought I talked like a Chinese, "comme un chinois." And when we stopped at Nice, which we did for several days, there was a huge joke about how I and Arthur had tried to ask for chips, but although she repeated this endlessly I cannot remember the details of it.

I remember the days in Nice as being happy. I met a boy there of about my own age and wanted to be friends with him. But very quickly he and his family moved on to Italy. Then we went to Italy. At the seaside resort of Imperia we ran into the boy and his family again. But now he did not want to be friendly with me. So my first experience of Italy was unhappy. And much as I have always wanted to love that country, and experience all it has to offer, there is something in me that cannot help but resent it.

(Just an aside here. All through my life promising friendships have been taken from me by the force of circumstance. When I was about five there was a girl called Melody Pine, there is a photograph of me with her, but she was an Australian, I think, and quickly went back to her own country. And when I was about eleven or twelve there was a wonderful boy I got to know briefly who was even cleverer than I was, he was not only good at history but also at science, and he was also kind and good fun, but very quickly he and his family also moved to Australia and I never saw him again and do not even remember his name.

And the only friend I did have in childhood, a boy called Philip Ralph, who was my contemporary at school, I absolutely loathed. He was so vulgar and dirty. The Ralphs were a large, traditional English family, and Mr and Mrs Ralph were kind to me, and welcomed me at their home, and I think that was kept me with Philip Ralph, the practical advantages that went with him. How often this pattern has run through my life, trying to be friends with people I cannot stand, but wanting to stay with them because being without them would be worse.)

But back to the Italian trip. My mother used often to say that everyone in northern Italy had been convinced she was from Naples, she spoke Neapolitan Italian so well. I never wondered about this in childhood. I thought my mother was a genius. I have no further memories of this trip until its end, except for one. This was that we went to see the Pope at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo. We were in a huge hall with thousands of other people and he was carried in on a huge platform, riding high above us. I have never forgotten this vision of worldly magnificence.

When I visited Casapulla near Naples in 2011, someone I met there, to whom I showed pictures of my mother and Arthur, and who was quite old, claimed that my parents had visited that place, and that can surely only have been in the summer of 1965, during this holiday. I have the vaguest possible impression that my mother and Arthur may have left me for a few days in Rome in the charge of someone else, but this could easily be a false or induced memory. It is impossible to for me to say whether they went south in 1965.

My next memory of this journey is of passing through Milan, perhaps in the evening, on the way out of Italy, and of my remarking how ugly it seemed to be, and my mother and Arthur explaining that it was an industrial city and therefore could not help being ugly.

Then my next recollection. following on that one, is of being in a small town in Switzerland, and my mother and Arthur being gone for a long time, having left me locked in the Dormobile, and of becoming very thirsty and longing for water, before they returned. And, when they came, I have the memory, which again may be false, that they said they had visited a bank. 

Because we had passed through Milan, and then most naturally would have gone through the Simplon Pass on our way into Switzerland, I suppose the town where this incident took place could well have been Lugano, where they speak Italian, and where my mother could have communicated fluently at any of the prosperous banks located there.

When I suffered my "psychotic episode" at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, I became convinced that on the trip to Germany and Austria they had been given Nazi gold, that they had arranged where to dispose of this in Naples the following year, and that the bank in what I believed was Lugano perhaps still held this money for me, and it would make me a millionaire if I could ever lay my hands on it. In calm retrospect, I see that this scenario is perhaps just a possibility, although the Swiss would surely have snitched away all the money in interest long ago.

That more or less wraps up what I want to say about my childhood foreign holidays. There were one or two more, to Portugal, and the photographs from these later trips typically show me in odd and alienated poses: standing apart with my head bowed from the people sitting in the forest at Carcavelos; turning away from the camera with a terrible smirk; standing by my mother with a proprietorial and frowning air. It is as if my life with my mother and Arthur is breaking in my own body. I don't remember what happened to the Dormobile in the end.

The poverty of my relationship with the Portuguese was sealed in these years. I remember being once with a group of children of my own age. They insisted that Portuguese was the most commonly spoken language in the world. I told them the truth, which I had learnt well, that this was Chinese followed by English, and that Portuguese came something like fifth or seventh. But they just began mockingly referring to me as the "gonglês", a version of "inglês", or "English". I was of no further interest to them.

Everything else I remember of our last trip to Lisbon, in 1967, I put into a story that was published in Prospect called "The Boy and the Book., The reader could easily access that piece, so I will say no more about it except that it concerns how I came into conflict with Arthur Ernest Hills and my mother helped me thwart him by using cunning.

And so began my masochism, which is more fundamental than my homosexuality. It is only being under a master that appeals to me among the sexual acts. Someone once said, perhaps Freud, that masochism is "the libido in permanent exile", and it looks that way to me. I have never even spent the night with anyone. Only once did I know sexual joy. But I have known it. So there is hope.

But not much. My masochism has taken the form of a duality between England and Portugal. Almost my first memory of it, when I was about ten, is of trying to stuff myself into some cardboard boxes, pretending that I was a Spaniard or Portuguese, being humiliated and punished by Sir Francis Drake. I want the punishment of the English so much. But once I thought I belonged to them. Now I know I do not.

And my belonging to Portugal was because of my suffering mother and my absolute identification with her. But she betrayed me in the end. I hate her now. Therefore I hate her people, although of course they were not entirely her people, which in a way makes it worse.

It is only when I can be free of both England and Portugal (although I want to come back to London to die) that I can be free and happy at all. I have to find another country. That is the truth, but it is not the whole of the truth. A country in itself could solve nothing. All countries, by virtue of the fact that they are countries, create problems for the individual.

What I am looking for is a young man who will be strong and brutal enough to impose his will on me in every respect. What country he is from, and whether he wants to stay in his own country, will be immaterial. He will choose the country. It could even be England or Portugal, I wouldn't be able to argue, he would lock me up.

In a sense, this young man is the country I am looking for. But clearly I would have to make my fortune late in life to have any hope of attracting such a person. The change  has to come in me first, or in what fortune I shall have.

I have one caveat to what I have said in this last paragraph. There is a single country where perhaps (and it is a very big perhaps) I might feel sufficiently at home to choose if it is my final fate to be alone. That country is Italy. Clearly once again I would have to be somehow very well-off before the time came to return to London.

Anyway, back to the grim story of my adolescence. The quarrels between my mother and Arthur became worse and worse. She would bite the carpet, he would foam at the mouth. Sometimes she would run out of the house towards the lay-by and Mrs Parr, the Peckham cockney, might be in front of hers, separated from us by one house, which was now hostile territory. My mother would call out for help, but Mrs Parr would not hear her or would pretend not to, and cry out "Lover-ly Mrs ´ills!"

(For the homely couple who had lived at No 102 were gone, and had been replaced by one whose name I do not remember. The man was big, dark and handsome in a brutal way. In my increasing disturbance, I used to play incessantly with a ball in the lay-by, batting it endlessly to the ground. The man objected and tried to bring my ball-playing to an end. I hated him and fantasised about being beaten by him.)

When I was about twelve my mother had a phantom pregnancy. She was about forty-five by then. She was convinced she was going to have a daughter. She wanted me to be happy about my little sister but I dreaded having to share her love with anyone. My mother had an English woman doctor whom she hated. After a Mum  began vomiting continuously. She believed that the woman doctor had mistreated her, that she wanted the foreign baby dead and given her pills so that she would bring up her baby in her vomit.

I have told the story in the previous post of how Arthur tried to search for his mother in 1968 and how the failure in this search led him frantically to pursue other women, which doomed his already almost intolerable marriage. I will not therefore repeat this material here, except to say that the lengthy and messy divorce, with a settlement that struck my mother as ungenerous, led her to feel a lifelong resentment and sense of loss which was surely exacerbated by the fact that both brothers had deserted her, the one not caring enough to stay, the other trying his damnedest but not succeeding in the end. The humiliation to a woman must have been terrible. And then there was the son she bore.

The years of the break-up coincided almost exactly with my years of puberty. This was an exceptionally disturbed and unpleasant time for me, but, perhaps because of the extreme nature of my emotions, I have few direct memories of that time. The main one is that the piano teacher in whom I placed great reliance, Miss Christine Drury, eventually refused to teach me because of my behaviour. What exactly I had done or said I do not remember. I never found a piano teacher I liked again. 

I did very in Grade Six of the Associated Board exams, which I had at least begun with Miss Drury, and achieved a pass with Merit, but then my efforts to take Grade Eight were a terrible flop. I played the piano obsessively for many years but was limited by the fact that certain physical aspects of pianism (playing two against three, for instance) were entirely beyond me. When I finally understood that I could never be a good pianist, and because my playing was annoying some unpleasant neighbours of whom I was frightened, I gave up playing by stages, until the final piece of which I could play a little was forgotten. Then I never touched the keys again. This was to my mother's great sorrow. She had loved to hear me play and the fact that I refused to touch the keyboard in later years, despite her pleas, was not the least of the factors that led to our alienation.

During the last one and a half years that Arthur lived with us, my mother kept up a policy of total silence towards him. She cooked him his meals and performed other housewifely duties, but in silence. Gradually I almost entirely stopped talking to him as well. These were the years of the secondary signs of puberty. Arthur never taught me to hand-shave and for many years I was frightened of this operation and used electric shavers which were constantly breaking down because I had no idea how to clean them. I was always very badly shaven during almost the whole of my adult life. Learning to hand-shave in prison in my early fifties, although I found it very difficult, was a great joy to me.

There were no more family holidays of course from 1968. In that summer there was a partial separation of the pair, hen my mother went to work in Jersey for three months. I joined her there briefly, and an experience I underwent there was to inspire the opening of the first of the pieces I wrote for Prospect from prison (look it up, reader, if it interests you). The following summer, or possibly in 1970 or 1971, my mother and I went alone to Paington in Devon for a few days summer holiday. The only memories I have of this stay are that I refused to go swimming in the sea and  of sitting at a hotel table with my mother one evening in total boredom and despair.

Yet my feelings of union with her remained for many years. I will tell one further story to illustrate this, which dates from the two years when we lived alone, when I was perhaps seventeen. We decided one evening to visit the theatre. There was no theatre in Crawley then, and we went to one on the southern outskirts of London, somewhere near Croydon. It turned out to be a modern, liberal play. I have forgotten what issue it dealt with, perhaps the rights of women, or those of the homeless, or perhaps even the subject of homosexuality. 

Anyway, the play quickly outraged the conservative sensibilities with which I had grown up. My mother and I were sitting in the gallery. Some particularly left-wing line caused me to make a sarcastic comment out loud. Soon my mother was joining in vociferously with loud comments about the extreme dowdiness and stupidity of the actors on the stage. The people around were telling us to hush. A manager came up to ask us to leave if we could not shut up. We refused to leave and it would have been too difficult to eject us. We survived until the end of the performance, and in the foyer afterwards someone, I think a woman, berated us about how we had behaved. We answered defiantly and flounced out.

I felt totally united with my mother on that occasion and justified in what I had done. There have been other plays that I have disrupted during my life and I have turned violent in a demonstration. At a mental health centre I was very subservient for eight weeks and then tried to strangle the director. My mother is no longer with me in my contra mundum attitude, but it remains one of the most fundamental aspects of my character. Usually I act very politely, and people often initially believe that I am a very gentle and perhaps a liberal person. If I believe that someone could influence my future, I am generally very careful how I treat him or her, and tailor the expression of my views carefully to what I think he or she might want to hear. But with left-wing strangers I often go out of my way to confront, embarrass and annoy them, and feel no guilt if they become upset.

Arthur left our house finally on 12th October 1971, the day I began at Thomas Bennett School. I had developed a secret passion for a boy who went there, Toby Lumsden. I never got to know Toby well, nor was I accepted by anyone else much at that school.  I think Arthur timed his departure for my big hopeful day to show his total contempt for me. 

I will tell one final story of our life together as a family. It takes me back several years, because I think this happened when I was about twelve. At some point I developed the urge to be a writer. I used to write little stories and essays. Once I wrote one  about the question of evil. And I said at the end of the essay that the most evil person in the world had been Dr Goebbels, that he was the epitome of evil.

I swear I wrote this, not because I knew anything about Goebbels, but because the sound of his name seemed particularly evil. At the same time it appealed to me. There was something ridiculous about it as well as evil which I enjoyed. This pattern has gone on throughout my life, of my being attracted to certain names that seem both ridiculous and evil, or ridiculous and annoying, and repeating them to myself again and again. often out loud, in a strange tone of voice, when I am alone or walking in the street.

But when Arthur Ernest Hills and my mother saw the essay they were horrified. They wanted to know again and again why I had chosen the name of that man as being especially evil. Where had I got the name from? They discussed the matter between themselves in low voices. Only with great difficulty could I convince them that it was simply the sound of the name that had seemed evil to me, and also a bit ridiculous, and then they were calm again.

I think this incident may have taken place while my grandfather was still alive.

Now I am thinking about how I shall move on with this post. I have already told of the two years when I lived alone in Crawley with my mother, and of how this happy period was brought to a surprising end when my mother more or less dumped me in Oxford on my first day there. Then we enter a long period, lasting the greater part of twenty-five years when my mother's life and my own followed largely separate courses, until the crisis of our joint existences came and it once again makes sense to tell our stories in tandem. So I intend to structure the next longish session around the theme of how I came to know that I was a Jew andalso the concomitant fact that my mother was not entirely from Portugal. This joint exploration of themes will take me to 1997 will much about my life in general will incidentally appear.

During my childhood there was only one recurring indication from my mother that we might be Jewish. This was that she very often used to say that we had Jews' heads. When either she or I had done or said anything particularly clever (and this happened often, in her opinion and mine) she would say that the reason we were so clever was that we had Jews' heads. And she would often show me her own head, and get me to look at mine, perhaps in a mirror, and point out the features that meant this was a Jew's head. I do not now remember exactly what those were, although it was something to do with my having a very high forehead, and nor do I ever remember making the connection that someone who had a Jew's head was likely to be a Jew.

The subject of Jewishness did not otherwise come up during my childhood, although there were many savage jokes about the Holocaust in the playground of my Catholic school. I did once cause particular nervousness at that establishment, because I had written an essay when I was about twelve or thirteen (I think based on my reading of H.G. Wells) which said that humankind was divided into three large groups, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, one of which was called the Aryans. This essay caused a lot of condemnation, and was even embarrassingly mentioned in the school assembly, but when a compromise was reached whereby I admitted that I should have called this group the Caucasians the whole thing was declared all right.

As it happened, the essays I wrote, and the things I said, based on my very esoteric reading, tended often to lead to problems with my teachers. I aroused the particular ire of one pair, young Miss Catterick, who was my form teacher two years running, and her mother, who had a position of junior authority, Mrs Catterick.

When it came to "O"-levels, Mrs Catterick was determined that I should not be allowed to learn Latin, because according to her my mental ability was insufficient. But the Latin teacher, Mrs Cronin, an Italian and perhaps a Jewess, who was my form teacher after Miss Catterick, wished me to learn Latin, and our joint will prevailed.

Mrs Cronin fell desperately ill of cancer soon after this (she quickly died) and for a long time the class had no Latin teacher. Only two of us eventually passed Latin at "O"-Level, Barbara Gaffney with Grade Six, the lowest grade of pass, and myself with Grade Four. I got nine "O"-Levels, several at Grade One, and even passed Maths at Grade Six, and was temporarily the toast of the school. 

I met Mrs Catterick in the road that led up to the school building and she apologised to me for doubting my abilities. But I brushed aside her apology. I never forgave her or the school, and my decision to move to a Protestant school soon after I had begun study for "A"-Levels was partly to remove credit for my brilliance from St Wilfrid's School.

(I will just add here in parenthesis that this pattern of fierce resentment unexpectedly avenged, has continued to run through my life. I never forgive what I perceive to be an injury, or cease to feel contempt for an opinion which I believe to be biased or wrong. I often say nothing about it at the time, if I perceive my position as regards the person or institution committing the fault concerned to be weak. I often work hard at getting as much out of that person or institution as I can while the going is good. Then, when I know I have used them up, like some old lemon, I often strike at them with great force.)

But all this is immediately going away from connections with my Jewishness. My first encounter with organised Jewish life (for there had been nothing like that in Crawley) came at Oxford. There was a fellow undergraduate in my year called Eric Goldberg who was a very committed Jew (he wanted to go out and fight in the Yom Kippur War, which broke out in our first term, but it was over before he could enlist). At some point he and other Jewish undergraduates held a dinner and they invited me to attend as an honorary gentile to turn the stove on and off and do the other work that was forbidden to the Jews under religious law. I was to share these students' meal as my reward.

Unfortunately, the early training I had received had made me so totally useless that I had no idea how to turn a stove on or off, and was frightened to do so. These intensely practical young Jews, who could have stripped a whole cooker down and rebuilt it from scratch if only their religious laws had allowed them to do so, were most exasperated with me, and when I finally succeeded in turning the thing on under their direction, I was left to eat my meal in miserable silence while they chatted most volubly among themselves. I did wonder what made them so almost hysterically cheerful. The room in which we sat was very drab and the food we were eating struck me, used as I was to the wonderful international mix of my mother's cooking, as grim indeed. Anyway, to my relief and theirs, I was not asked to act the part of a righteous gentile again.

This pattern of unease in all my contacts with organised Jewry has gone on through my  life. And, although I have have had several close friends who have been Jews, these have  been reticent about this identity. Neither of these facts is surprising. A people that has subject over long centuries to hateful persecution and vast double-dealing cannot be expected to welcome all and sundry with great ease. And we individual Jews can surely sometimes be forgiven if we indulge in snappishness, suspicion and occasional duplicity.

Since I only discovered I was a Jew at an age when it was too late for my behaviour to be much altered, I have a much more outgoing and unreserved attitude than most Jews (perhaps sometimes too much so indeed). Speaking from the privileged position of not having been brought up with the Holocaust burned into my mind, I would like to direct a plea to my fellow-Jews to be more accepting, more trusting, more (I hardly dare write the word) loving. 

The existence of the State of Israel, while the fact of the Shoah made it inevitable, and therefore no blame at all can be attributed to the founders - indeed, only righteous praise - was stained at its onset by the expulsion of the Palestinians, an injustice the rest of the world will never forgive to its dying day. If the State of Israel had never been founded, the ancient canker of antisemitism would surely have have rotted away, people would have been so ashamed of it in light of the suffering of the Jews. It is only because the people of Israel have been placed (very often through no fault of their own) in the position where they are widely perceived to be murderous persecutors themselves that this hateful prejudice can flourish once again, so strongly in the Muslim world, in so many other countries of which I have personal knowledge, and, most horrifically of all, in my own nation of Britain, and particularly in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. But the fault does not lie solely with those suffering from this prejudice It lies also with the ideology of Zionism.

OK, rant over, and back to my own encounters with my Jewishness. After my aimless and incompetent years at Oxford, and an even more wildly undirected period of postgraduate research, I did five disastrous professional jobs and quite a few much more humble ones before at the age of thirty-nine deciding that I would now live solely as a writer (which in practice has meant living on state benefits, handouts, debt and the sale of property). A surprising number of the jobs I had, however, involved contact with Jews or a discovery of possible Jewish identity, so I will include brief details of all five professional jobs, and begin with a memory of one of the more humble ones, which takes me slightly out of date-sequence to the summer of 1979.

At this point, I had already run through the first two professional jobs in three months each, and was living in precarious circumstances in various short-lived flatshares in London. I took at a temporary job at the engineering firm Ove Arup (no Jewish connection there, I think) and was put to sit at a table with three other young people, one other male and two females, filling in the detail of various jobs on cards for computerisation.

Perhaps the second or third time that I approached the table where the three other sat (which would have been quite soon, because I went very often to the toilet), the dark, sharp-faced slightly camp-looking other male, who was called James, looked up and said, "You are of the tribe of Abraham, aren't you?"

"No. No. As far as I know, I'm not."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, yes, as far as I know. I'm sure I'm not."

He went on to say that he had thought I looked very Jewish, but that he accepted my assurances. The two women, as I seem to remember (for political correctness had not advanced very far in those days of 1979) now chipped in to say that they too had thought I might be Jewish. One of them was a very glamorous young Indian (possibly half-Irish), called Pia, and I turned the tables somewhat by asking her about her own background. Of the other young woman, strangely enough, I remember nothing at all.

James and I were to become friends quite briefly, and I don't think this would have happened if I had known I was of "the tribe of Abraham", because I would have admitted it, and he was very antisemitic. He had converted to the Russian Orthodox Faith (or perhaps it was Greek Orthodox( and lived as a lodger near where we worked, with an elderly retired BBC man called Tom Fleming, who had apparently been well-known during the war, and whose flat was just behind Broadcasting House, near Oxford Circus.

I visited James once or twice at this warm, hermetic flat in the very heart of the city, and seem to remember that his small room was painted all in black and featured just his bed and a holy icon on the wall before which a bright candle burned. James was a very devout and sincere young man, and despite his rather virulent antisemitism I have warm memories of him. Some years later, when I had begun to write as an adult, I wrote a short story based on the four temps working around the table and in it I conflated the characters of James and myself and made this character someone who wanted to become a Roman Catholic priest but was worried because he was gay. I made the other man into a mocking Guardian reader called Bernard, gave the Indian girl another oriental background, and made the woman I did not remember into a black girl called Suzie.

I have always felt it was a sort of spiritual achievement to merge the characters of myself and James. I gave the character his devoutness (and mine, more erratic in my case), my wild, troubled nature (and his, more contained). This work, which is called "Tidings", will always be my favourite of my stories, although some people have judged that the unexpected and abrupt ending does not work. It was published, many years after it was written, in the Australian magazine Quadrant, and for the price of a subscription to that estimable journal, you, reader, could judge it for yourself, as well as read four others of my stories and a number of my essays and impressionistic pieces. I write as C.A.R. Hills.

The first of my professional jobs was with a Jewish firm. Things were getting increasingly hot for me at Oxford in summer 1978 (I was pretending to write a thesis on Modern Germany History and had a supervisor who was getting too insistent on seeing some of it, Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann), so I applied for a job with a firm called Stonehart Publications, which published various business publications,  and found myself attending an interview at a grand, hired venue where a large, imposing blond young man, himself recently down from university, sat at some distance from me behind a grand desk. I thought he looked most handsome, and also cruel, and I and gave a most sparkling performance as his potential assistant in founding a ruthless young executive business newsletter. I think he mentioned he was Jewish at the interview, but to me he looked like the Nazi of my dreams. Perhaps he too divined I was a Jew. He hired me.

The men who had founded Stonehart, a Mr Stein and a Mr Hart, were not in evidence at Golden Square, where various offices of the firm were situated, and the people who ran the newsletters, almost all of them Jewish, seemed more or less autonomous and came or went entirely as they pleased. Some hardly attended at all. I was thus more or less entirely at the mercy of my crude heavily-smoking young boss, who put me in charge of producing the first newsletter with the help of a cynical freelance who disliked us both, and it predictably turned out a total mess and damned the whole venture. From that point my boss persecuted me with every sort of Nazi trick, but he did not make me a slave and take me away to his flat, beat me soundly on arrival, and then force me into incessant hard work under further threat of the lash, as would have been the substance of my dreams.

I found the young man on closer evidence as repulsive as at first he had seemed attractive, and grew to hate him during our brief association, but he has never ceased to be the figure who figures most prominently in my masturbatory fantasies. He had a strange smile, which was very suddenly cut off at the lips as it began to flower, and it is a man with such a smile I long for still insistently as I begin to grow old.

I was rescued from the strange firm of Stonehart after three months by winning the opportunity from a field of 120 interviewees to be a trainee copy editor in the publications department of the Open University in Milton Keynes. Never, they said as they welcomed me with joy on the first day, had they seen anyone give such an impressive interview. However, my utter inability to perform the practical tasks I was expected to undertake at my various jobs was in inverse proportion to the effortless promise to undertake them I had seemed to show. The probationary period at this job was also three months, and I failed it, and was out on my ear.

I never walked out from a job with more bitterness. This was the one professional job I had with no Jewish connection, but the people concerned were very much the sort of left-liberal intelligentsia who in latter years have become most hostile to the Jews. I certainly found them inimical enough under their initial veneer of acceptance and good feeling.

But it was good to return to London, even with almost nothing, after hated Milton Keynes, where you waited two hours for a bus which then sailed past if you failed to hail it heartily enough, and this middle part of 1979 was the time I did the job at the temps' table which I have already described. I had various other temporary jobs before that, including a most alarming one as a messenger boy in the City of London, where almost all the other elderly messengers were East Enders and members of the National Front, who had the most fantastical hereditary beliefs about the Jews. I lasted only four days in that job, the briefest of my many unfortunate employments.

I lost the job at the temps table towards Christmas 1979 (I saw James once or twice after that, then never again) but before I finished I walked out from the office early one rainy morning to queue up for seven hours in Kennington to be offered a hard-to-let flat by the Greater London Council in the London Borough of Lambeth. Thus in mid-December 1979, I found myself the master of a two bedroom flat with a sitting-room large enough to give parties less than three miles from Charing Cross at a rent of three pounds a week.

For a brief period in early 1980, I tried to manage without claiming the dole, but soon gave this up as too unprofitable, and combined state benefits for the rest of that year with working at three fly-by-night tutorial agencies, all of which got rid of me by December. The earlier part of 1981 saw me combining the dole with various bits of freelance writing, and I lost a great deal of weight during this period. It was all soon to come back again when from October 1981 I began a more than four year stint as a news reporter on Electrical and Radio Trading (ERT), a magazine which formed part of IPC Business Press, part of Reed Publishing, based in Sutton, Surrey.

This was once again an almost entirely Jewish magazine in the editorial department. This was because the editor of ERT, an elderly, lugubrious and comical East End Jew called Alfred Sorkin, tended to hire only people he knew to be Jews or suspected to be so. Once again, I did a brilliant interview, and when I described my Portuguese background to him Alf was as sure as he needed to be that I had the vital qualification for the job. He was also most impressed by my Oxford degree, and did not stop to reflect that I knew nothing about electrical trading and was hardly the type to try to learn. That pink skyscraper filled with trade magazines was very heavily unionised and after you had been there two years it was almost impossible to sack you. During the first two years Alf was too-hearted and retained enough affection for me to do the necessary. After that, he began to hate me like poison, but I could now take my three-hour lunchbreaks wandering the secondhand bookshops, libraries and scraggy woodlands of remotest south London with impunity.

My great protector during that time was the news editor for whom I worked, the old friend that I have mentioned many times in this blog, Bill Hicks. Bill was almost comically kindly, liberal-minded and diffident during that youthful period (he has since developed very considerable sharpness, at least in his relations with me) and I was in no danger of being forced to take on electrical assignment that did not take my fancy. He was an invaluable protector in quite a hostile office. Alf Sorkin was also particularly fond of Bill, and relied on him (Bill was later to be present at Alf's very painful deathbed) and perhaps I would have been sacked during the first two years if Bill had not intervened.

I lasted in that job, therefore, a little over four years, by far the longest employment I have ever had, and from which I already derive a pension. That was the first of the many good things I owe to lovely Bill. In the last year of my time at ERT (for Bill is a very cautious, rather remote person for all his considerable kindness) our acquaintance ripened into personal friendship, and I was for the first time invited to his beautiful flat in Clapham, of which I have the happiest memories over almost three decades, but which now for some time has been denied to me.

But those years I can never forget, and they mean that my feelings about Bill will always be warm, even if I no longer see him. He loved my literary work, which I used to read to him with great pleasure when I came round to share a bottle of wine and hot Indian snacks with him, almost always on Monday night. Very often we ran into each other in the street or on the bus. There was a period, when our relationship must have been at its most intense, when I ran into him and his family six times by chance over a short period in the streets of London, five times in our local area, but once at Cambridge Circus.

But my relation with Bill has gone through the long cycle that affects many enduring friendships and now seems to have reached closure. For, from the period that I left England in 2009, I asked him to perform too many tasks for me without reward and thus lit the torch of his slow-burning anger. In my desperation, after a while, knowing how upset he had become, I began to send him presents from my stays abroad. He liked the first two I sent, from Italy and Portugal, but it was the third one, a plate I sent him for Israel celebrating that country's achievements, and which arrived at his flat smashed into a thousand pieces, which for a time seemed to restore our friendship to something more like what it had been. Ironically, the smashed plate cemented our relations much more than an intact one could have done.

But something, once smashed, cannot be fully restored. It can look the same thing, but it is another piece of work. In the early part of 2014, after a clandestine return to London when Bill had for the most part warmly welcomed me, I committed the sin, as far as our friendship was concerned, of writing about him with great honesty in this blog, as well as the other three close friends I had had in London, with whom my relations had now ended. Bill was extremely angry about this, but nobly accepted my explanation that in order to write well it must be with total honesty about the things that matter.

After my return to London in early 2017 it seemed that I no longer needed Bill to do anything more for me and I gave him a handsome series of "signing-off presents" at a now rare visit to the beautiful flat. But recently I made the mistake of asking him to do another rather dodgy job. Once again he assented, but this seems to have put the kibosh on our friendship, because I cannot get hold of him now.

In a way I do not regret that he no longer seems to be my friend. Our full relationship ended during the period I was in prison at Lowdham Grange in 2008 and he failed me in ways I could not forgive. The long sequel of almost ten years was mainly me using him mercilessly. I have no further use for him now and our warmest relations could not return. And my own anger, held in check for so long while I still needed him, is now boiling hot. So perhaps best that we part, and that the luminous attic flat join the good memories over which I so endlessly pore in the night-time, usually memories of places rather than of people (although not entirely in his case). It is sad, but like any good masochist, I fear and detest friendship and love the hardness of the immaterial.

And this aversion grows with the years. In the last years of the old millennium and the beginning of the new, I was trying to build up my career as a writer, and optimistic that success could be achieved. I was in my way a social and affable figure, encouraging and sympathetic to others. I was the editor of PEN News, which gave me a position in the world. I used to give birthday parties, usually at my flat in Clapham, sometimes elsewhere, and they were vivid and crowded occasions. Often distinguished literary and journalistic people came.

The present editor of the New Statesman, Jason Cowley, wrote a  denigrating article about me in The Observer after I became a notorious criminal - it has since been reprinted in his recent collection of essays, Reaching for Utopia, with significant alterations (he omits his own damaging quotation of and leading question about David Goodhart, the founding editor of Prospect, for instance, but retains my own disparagement of him). 

And in Cowley's vast treatment of me, motivated, I believe, by his jealously of my writing talents (for he can never be more than a competent writer, despite his great worldly success) he portrayed me as a sad and shabby loner in terminal decline. Perhaps I am all that to an extent. But Cowley never accepted any of the many invitations I sent him to my parties (Goodhart came to one), which would have told him how partial his picture was.

Now I am down to just seven friends (one is a couple, but for practical purposes I consider them as one friend). Bill counts among the seven. Four of the others I have also not seen for many months. A further friend came round recently to fix the duvet cover and fitted sheet on my bed and I entertained him to a drink. He later cancelled my proposed visit to his house because it was very cold on the proposed day and he does not light the fire until the evening. I also recently visited the couple at their home in Kent, and this occasion was less harmonious than my previous two visits, which took place in summertime. I often lie on my bed thinking about the seven and the reasons why I should not phone them. One of them, a writer and journalist of sorts, is unsympathetic to this blog. A second is too left-wing. A third has become capricious. And a fourth, an old man, has an equally ancient dog who is making his flat smelly. Oh, no, my dear seven, piss off.

I am becoming the proverbial elderly urban hermit, but like the Miller of Dee I am basically a happy misanthrope. I am now sixty-three years old, an age that is sometimes called the grand climacteric, the age when human striving means no more, when what will be will be. I still live in the tall dark north London house that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I am no closer than I was to the other inhabitants, but they are often away, or do not appear in the public quarters, so that for much of the time it is if I am living in an empty house.

I get up later than I did, go to bed earlier than I did. I visit the pub more rarely than I did, I read more slowly than I did, and prefer leafing through non-fiction to a novel. I am a member of no literary or other associations, as I once rather ruefully was, in an effort to stay in the swim. I do not attempt to ingratiate myself with anyone, although if I ever met the sort of young man who takes my fancy I might take the trouble to be pleasant. 

I now listen more to Radio Four rather than Radio Three, to which I was tuned for most of my adult life in my love of classical music. I am sometimes quite impatient with it now, and I absolutely detest the modern ignorant and politically correct Radio Three apparatchiks, with their endless black, female and modern jazz composers, most of them of a truly staggering awfulness. How those idiots gush about them as well! No, these days I prefer the information of the equally unappealing people on Radio Four.

Brian Streeter, who is eighty, has recently fallen ill with pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver, and he has not wanted me to visit him at his home. A pity, maybe, but I keep up very regular phone calls. He is receiving a newish form of radiotherapy which gives him quite a good prognosis. I will surely see him again before he goes.

It is all like a whitening of the soul. And I sense a grand purpose in it. Much of my time is now spent in reading about Nazism, its society and its leaders. Because of my own background I am tempted to feel a sort of nostalgia for the Nazis, and this is compounded by the fact that I hate the multiracial society in which I live, which would clearly have never arisen if Hitler had been triumphant (and equally clearly I would not have been around to watch it either).

And it is essential, as I see it, that this attitude be purged. But this can only happen in the solitude of my soul, and it must come through knowledge. Yesterday, for instance - I write this passage on Thursday, 29th November 2018 - I sat for several hours in the rainy afternoon in the Waterstones at Islington Green leafing through a biography of Reinhard Heydrich.  This made it absolutely clear to me that he was in no way the sexy young  superman I had vaguely supposed him to be. Apart from his organisational and terroristic skills, he was an utterly commonplace person, devoted to sport and reading crime novels, whose most probable motive for surrendering himself to extreme evil was the fact that, although he was presented to the world as the beau ideal of the blond beast, he was in fact corporeally strangely out of proportion. The worst feature of him was his thin and unmuscular legs, something a man can do nothing about. This must have tortured the guy.

But Heydrich is not exactly the point of what I am saying. What applies to him can be paralleled in every aspect of the Nazis. And it is only through solitary, prolonged and undisturbed reading that I can learn the attitude of contempt for Nazism which will be even more essential to me than detestation for it when the secret of who my grandfather was is revealed.

Now back to the story of my unfortunate professional jobs and the many contacts they involved with Jews and Jewishness. My time at the electrical trade magazine, ERT, came to an end when I did yet another brilliant interview, this time with the London Office of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was then headed by a dilettantish self-consciously upper-class person, who has since died, called Charles Mosley. This time my brilliance consisted in sitting absolutely still and impassive for almost the entire half an hour of the interview while Mosley talked on the phone. He was so impressed with this insouciance that he hired me on the spot, as an sub-editor and clerk. There was one other editor, a middle-aged Jewish family man with whom Charles Mosley was on poor terms.

For the first two weeks of this job, just before and after Christmas 1985, the three of us were working substantially alone at an office in Temple Chambers, and I loved the dark, romantic setting of the office (and spent much of my time reading The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault) and believed I liked both of my disparate companions. But then an elderly English spinster, who had worked for many years in the Chicago head office of the company, arrived in London to shake the London end of the operation up, we moved to grim offices in Great Portland Street, where the family man and I sat in an outer office just adjoining where Charles Mosley presided in increasingly imperilled state, and I entered eight months of great unhappiness before the Britannica spinster decided I was redundant.

I talked to the family man very intensively during those eight months and this was the longest period of discussion I have ever enjoyed with a fellow-Jew. He was the absolute caricature of a subservient, sly and oily Jew. He could have served Dr Goebbels as material for propaganda. He had gone to live in Israel in a spirit of idealism, but could not stand it there, because, according to him, the atmosphere was "middle-eastern". Now he had returned to London and was trying his best at the job for the sake of his family. He had two children (I seem to remember a son and a daughter, and disliked the daughter, and identified with the son) and proudly displayed pictures of him in the office. Mosley needled him constantly and, for instance, on a memo he circulated about the article on the Spanish inquisition, wrote that the auto-da-fe, where Jews had been burned, had been a "functionally useful institution, albeit painful", and urged that this aspect be more emphasised by the encyclopaedia. The Jew protested privately to me about this in the strongest terms but said nothing to Mosley. Naturally the latter, albeit married to a fashionable American wife, had no children for whom to care.

I received a letter from the family man after I had been made redundant to ask me whether I was still among "the breathers of this world". I don't remember if I replied. Certainly I had nothing more to do with anyone from that office, and liked neither Gentile nor Jew there, and took no sides in the intense hostility that I saw existing between both. 

After that, a happy period began when I was able to live for fully six years on a mixture of the dole and the quite extensive freelance writing I was able to obtain, and I have no memories of any contact with Jews from that time which it seems useful to share. But in 1992 I was forced to take another job, at the Monitoring Service of the BBC, and it was an incident that took place at that workplace which made me first seriously consider the possibility that I was a Jew.

But, before telling of this revelation, I need once again to go back and talk about the related question of how I considered my Portuguese identity during those long years of my early adulthood and particularly tell of my growing realisation that my mother's origin was not entirely among that people. Once again I need to recap, going from my late schooldays to the visit my mother paid me at my home in October 1996. Then I will go briefly back to the question of how I first suspected I was a Jew, before beginning the long and painful story of the joint crisis in the lives of myself and my mother from 1997 until her death in 2002 and then the repercussions of all this in my life to the present.

This post, more or less, is about the background of my mother, and the reader will recall that the previous one was about the background of my father. In both cases there was a central mystery, or problem, which concerned in their origins, and resolving that mystery was the clue to discovering who my parents and grandparents had been. In the case of my father, the man who brought me up, Arthur Ernest Hills, seemed not to be my father, but his own early background was so strange and mysterious that it seemed likely he was in fact connected with me. This mystery was resolved more naturally by discovering that he had in fact been my wicked uncle and my real father was his twin brother.

In the case of my mother, the mystery was that it became increasingly clear that she had spoken Neapolitan Italian better than Portuguese, and I knew that she was definitely in Lisbon from the age of sixteen or seventeen near the beginning of the war,, yet she seemed to be so intimately connected with Portugal and her family there from an early age, and seemed to have so few Italian cultural traits, that the idea that she had arrived in Portugal for the first time as a Jewish refugee from Italy in 1939 or 1940 seemed unlikely.

Again there was a most natural solution to the mystery. Her early childhood was in Portugal, and it was her mother who had come from Italy, or from another region where they spoke Neapolitan Italian in the earlier twentieth century. Now comes the long story of how, over many years, I came to this realisation.

I had no hint of it in childhood. I did not speak any Portuguese then, so could not have realised that my mother´s proficiency in the language was deficient. My mother claimed to her sister Eva that I did not want to learn Portuguese, and had shouted,"I won't speak that rubbishy language! I'm English. I want to speak English!" Well, I think this is all part of the negative view that my Portuguese family was always encouraged to have of me. The whole matter is more complex. As I have said, I was a Portuguese patriot. Yet I lived in England, and in those days children were not encouraged to emphasise their foreign connections. Arthur Ernest Hills, in particular, would surely have been against it. Perhaps I was torn in my feelings. Anyway, I did not learn Portuguese.

Nor did I worry much in childhood about acquiring knowledge of Portugal. My attachment to my mother made me take it for granted that everyone else would love her and also her country. There was no need for me to stress my Portuguese identity to others. It took a long time for this instinctive attitude to change. When I went to Thomas Bennett School for the sixth form, there was an elderly and rather traditional history teacher called Mr Townshend who taught us the Tudor and Stuart period and its equivalent on the European continent, and who greatly admired my intellectual gifts. It was owing to him that I was put forward to go to Oxford, because my other radical and bolshy teachers would never have suggested it.

At one point in Mr Townshend's class the issue of the Portuguese Discoveries came up, and he apologised to me for the fact that he did not teach a lesson on this subject. He would like to, he said, but could not, because the examiners never set questions on it. This was most unfair and inexplicable, he said, but he could do nothing about it. But at this point in my life I did not react much to his apology. I was too excited by how much I knew about history in general and how well I could write about it. Portugal could wait.

It was while I was at Oxford that my attitude began to change. The Protestant school had been my first full contact with English society, but I was too insulated by my intellectual brilliance fully to feel the hostility I encountered there. At Oxford I became purposeless. I was no longer interested in intellectual prowess. I had made it. There was no future, as far as I knew. I wanted to live now, to love and be loved, to be accepted and even celebrated for all that I was. And Portugal became, in the words of the poet Alexandre O'Neill, "the issue that always goes with me."

There was a Canadian student at Hertford, rich and flamboyant but socially insecure. He wanted very much to be a success within the college, yet was mainly regarded as a joke in that self-consciously English and restrained society. Because I was myself an outsider, he was wary of me and I had little contact with him. One of the few times he addressed me was in the library, when he came up to me to say that he knew that the Portuguese for "fuck your mother" was "cono del madre". This seemed to be fairly obviously incorrect Spanish, but I did not know enough Portuguese to offer him a true translation. All I could say was that the Portuguese for "mother", a word I knew well, was "mae". I have a believe that was the last time I ever spoke to that individual

And there was an embarrassing occasion when, quite unusually, a Portuguese scholar was dining in hall, and that person (allegedly at least) did not know much English. Someone came up to me where I was sitting (almost certainly alone, I usually was) to invite me to go and join that man so that I could talk to him in Portuguese, but I had to refuse because my knowledge of the language was almost nil. Quite a lot of fuss was made about the fact that I had refused to undertake this commission and, since I now tended to be very upfront about my Portuguese origins in what I perceived as the hostile atmosphere of the college, the whole incident upset me more perhaps than it should have done.

Perhaps it was around this time that I started to attend, out of interest and unofficially, some Portuguese classes that were being offered in the university. They were very poorly attended, I remember, and being offered at a level far above any from which I could profit. The hopeless and uninterested female teacher (according to a fellow student, she was very beautiful) only really spoke to me to express her astonishment that, the son of a Portuguese mother, I knew so little of the language. It seemed a very ugly one to me in these admittedly unpromising circumstances. Quite soon I gave up these classes in despair.

The years that followed Oxford formed part of the confusion and disturbance of my twenties. I did little very consistently during that time. During my Oxford years I had been mad about learning German, and after Oxford I was trying to study German history so that, though my pleasure in German decreased, it was more than ever imperative to try and master it. But very gradually I did return to Portuguese, and naturally enough I sought my mother's help. But she did not encourage my efforts. I think now that she feared that, if I learned enough of the language, I would discover that she was not really proficient in it. Perhaps that had also lain behind the failure to teach me Portuguese in childhood.

My mother became quite scornful and hostile about my efforts to learn Portuguese. There was one general grammar available of Portuguese at that time, one of the very few books that taught the language beyond the most basic level. This was the grammar by Clive Willis (he later became a great friend of mine, and was a great and inspiring expert, but this early book is not among his best efforts). This book gave the meaning of the colloquial word "sabichao" as "prig". But my mother had often called me a "sabichao" when I was a child and both of us knew it did not mean anything like "prig". The trouble was that neither of us knew exactly what it meant in English. In fact it is something like "know-all".
But I was too wild and woolly to come to this commonsense definition at the time, and my mother seemed seized with panic at the idea of trying to find an equivalent for the word.

My Portuguese studies were part of the many bones of contention that were beginning to grow between my mother and myself in the years that followed my childhood. She quickly grew to hate Clive Willis and his book, but could not pose as an effective alternative to his authority. I began to understand, as in so many other areas of my life, that it was not from her that I would now learn anything. I went back to other books and perhaps I listened to a few tapes and was able to speak to a few other natives.

Anyway, a day came when I returned to my mother's house after a little while away and I was suddenly able to speak quite good Portuguese. She was astonished and, despite herself, pleased. She had a respect for intellectual accomplishment and was herself a brilliant linguist in six languages, in none of which perhaps was she quite a native (for her Italian, so fluent, was Neapolitan dialect). It must have pleased her that her son was showing at least some of her own gifts. All during my adult life she was torn between her growing displeasure in me and failure to understand what I had become and the old longing to take pride in a much-loved son.

I think that part of our tragedy as mother and son was that we failed to understand how much we were growing to hate, rather than love, one another. I was still living in the afterglow of my childhood adoration of her and perhaps could not bear to reflect very long on how little this corresponded to how I saw her now. I was also still too dependent on her for practical help in many matters to have the freedom to analyse an increasingly unhealthy relationship. She, in her turn, was too instinctive, conventional and domineering a person to have any facility for self-criticism, or any inkling that it would be wise to moderate her behaviour towards me. A connection of ours by marriage once said that she was a small woman with a rocket up her arse. Now I heard the rocket's sound, but failed to know what it portended. And she was the rocket. She loved its sound.

In the 1980s I had my flat in Clapham (my mother and Arthur Ernest Hills helped me move in - I think it was the last joint service I had from them - she alone was to put up the curtains, on my twenty-seventh birthday we were alone there when somebody rang up threatening to kneecap me, I remember her so often lying on the sofa and smiling at me as I sat writing at the table, for I was a writer now). Oh, the home I had for so long, I will never be in one place for so long again, even now when I am riding a bus alone through the streets of North London and by chance hear a name from the south it is as if I have had a breath of fresh air!

Yet those days were not so beautiful when they were being lived. In the 1980s, when everyone was famously making a packet, I was attending adult education classes! Now a passion for learning Latin replaced my earlier attachment to German (I even tried to conduct all my relationships with friends in that language, which was inconvenient to say the least). But from time to time I also returned to Portuguese. It rarely seemed any more attractive a language the more and more I tried to take pride in it, I remember shuddering as I had to enunciate some particularly ugly sequence of nasal diphthongs. But as we approached the 1990s, my "A"-levels in Latin and Greek were behind me, I was devoting myself entirely to Portuguese with the ambition of turning it to some practical use in England (never achieved), and I was getting seriously good at it.

I will give some examples of the strange things I learnt about my mother from this process. Back in the later part of 1976, I had been living for a period of six months back at my mother's house (I had one friend during this time, who was so taciturn that I nicknamed him "The Brick Wall", I think he was the worst friend I ever had, and that is saying quite something, I cannot help mentioning him although he has nothing to do with my mother). Anyway, during this period I used to listen to mother talking to her friends in Portuguese on the phone, and I noticed that very often, as a sort of aside, she would come out with the phrase, "E depois," which, literally, means only "after this".

I imagined, because the phrase came up so often, that it must have some very handy colloquial use besides its literal meaning, perhaps "Well, anyway," or something like that. And in the 1980s, I mentioned the phrase to one of my two chief teachers (they are probably both alive, so I will give no details of them) and I asked him what the hidden colloquial meaning was. But he said the phrase had none.

I realise now that this was my mother's instinctive transference to Portuguese of the very common Italian expression, "E dopo?", "What's next?", "What are we up to now?" But I knew almost no Italian at the time I was researching the possible hidden idiom, nor did my instructors in Portuguese.

Something rather similar happened at another point. I was trying to practice Portuguese with my mother and rather rashly addressed her as "tu", the most familiar form of address. She said rather sharply that, while a parent would naturally address his or her child as "tu", it was the duty of the child to call his or her parent "voce", the next step up in the hierarchy of address.

Once again, when the opportunity arose, I took this point to the informative if rather repressive Portuguese teacher whom I have already mentioned. Once again, he contradicted my mother's point, saying that children in Portugal had always freely addressed their parents as "tu". This time, however, I rather doubted whether he knew his stuff, for reasons which, if I were to reveal them, would identify him further.

Now I know for certain, from many sources, that he was right. But it is the custom, particularly in the southern Italian countryside, where parents, and particularly fathers, are often figures to be held in awed respect - "Mazze, panella,/fan' i figli bella," is one adage that springs to mind -, for the son or daughter to address a mother or father with the formal "lei", while he or she will freely adress him or her as "tu". What my mother told me was one more of the many signs I have come across over the years that my mother must have grown up partly in Italy.

And a young Italian, from the region of Naples, whom I met in Lowdham Grange Prison - I shall not give his name, because I know he would not wish it - once told me that he happened to know personally that she had been born there. If this is true, then I am at least as much Italian as I am Portuguese. If it is not true, then one might say, as a friend once suggested to me, that thirty per cent of my blood lies in Portugal.

Around 1991 my long decade of attending adult education classes came to an end when the chief teacher I had for Portuguese whom I have not so far mentioned upset me so much during my the final examinations for the Diploma of the Institute of Linguists (I passed all papers with distinction, except one, which she personally wrecked for me) that I vowed to have nothing more to do with her or with the formal study of Portuguese. I had varied my attendance at classes with other punishing rituals (I once went straight from a caning in Southampton Row to a Latin lesson at the City Literary Institute), but now I accepted, in modified form, the advice of a friend that I should be a teacher, not a student.

Only I didn't want to teach either. I had no more real interest in instilling "amo, amas, amat" than I had in inculcating the strange and rural dialect that went on to become the national language of Portugal and Brazil and and the mother tongue of two hundred million people in four of the five continents. Well done, that language of a small country, but it is not finally my job to go on promoting you. I do not belong to Portugal.

Nor were my experiences in corporal punishment undertaken entirely for their own sake. I wanted them, sure, in the same way as I wanted the languages. But I needed to get to the number of twelve beatings undergone so that I could write a piece called "The Round Dozen". Any further thrashing must come from a man I love. It was my work that was the point of the twelve beatings, not the strokes given by the more or less inadequate creatures who administered them. Pain and domination are meaningless if there is no love there.

So, at the end of my fifth, last and most unpleasant professional job, on 19th April 1994, I made the decision that I would live henceforward only as a writer, whatever the cost, however much the dishonesty and cruelty involved. I was as ruthless a person in my secret heart now as it was possible to be. My love for my mother had already in some essential form died, as I shall go on to describe in the next long section, which concerns developments in our joint emotional lives from the period when I first left home to the beginning of our joint  life crisis. But first I must tell of an important incident which dates from the job I held between 1992 and 1994, because it led me for the first time to consider the idea that I might be a Jew.

I worked for that time as a desk editor at the BBC Monitoring Service. I was on a series of short-term contracts (I had five of these over nineteen months) and they put me to work on the so-called "Part One", editing monitored broadcasts from the states of the former Soviet Union, while my linguistic expertise (since I knew French, Spanish and Portuguese)  would more naturally have suggested "Part Four", which covered Africa as well as the Middle East. The other two parts concerned Eastern Europe and the Far East and Australasia, and further regions of the world, such as Latin America or Western Europe, were monitored by American partners so that they were of no direct interest to the BBC Monitoring Service. 

The rather grisly crew who worked in Part One were almost all ex-Soviet specialists and viewed me as a suspected (and even hated) interloper. And the intensive computer work damaged my hands and arms. All this, and the fact that I was emotionally tied to my flat in London, and had no wish to move to Reading, outside which, in the country house of Caversham Park, the Monitoring Service, was situated, gave a particularly makeshift and unsatisfying quality to this last of my professional jobs. It was the one I hated with most fury, particularly because it had interrupted work on my first novel, with which I was obsessed. I did the job until I had enough money to start buying my ex-council flat under the Right to Buy Scheme, and immediately after signing the contract to buy I developed a month-long fit of rage, paranoia and near emotional breakdown which must have been alarming to watch and which culminated in my telling my line manager to "fuck off".

This led to my being asked to leave the job immediately, although my current contract was allowed to reach its natural termination, so that I could go back on the dole without difficulty after five weeks of moneyed bliss with no obligations whatsoever. Apart from intervals spent living abroad or in prison, I have been on benefits more or less ever since, latterly on those related to mental ill health, a diagnosis which has served me very well.

But back now to the circumstances at the Monitoring Service which led me first to think I might be a Jew. The BBC maintained a hostel on site for its workers and I often stayed there and in the evenings had time on my hands on their rather spooky country estate. Because of their concern with Africa, they employed three Portuguese monitors, who were all natives of Portugal. These had all the broadcasts at their disposal, as well as a small library devoted to Portuguese matters, and the expertise that came from their background. So, in the evening, I used often to wander over to their workstations to try and improve my knowledge of what I believed entirely to be my mother's country.

The older and more established two monitors, one male and one female, did not welcome me, but the third one was different. He was a charming and mildly outrageous younger man called Antonio da Silva, rather disliked and despised by the other two (he was always getting his headphones into the most terrible twist) but full of fun and slightly offhand but unfailing cooperation with my unusual quest. He was in very poor health for such a young man and I fear that he may now be dead. Dear Antonio, I salute you across the gulf of the years and hope against hope that you will read this and may remember me.

We used to talk a lot about our lives, and at one point, when we were alone at the Portuguese monitor workstation, the subject of my family came up and the fact that we bore the common surname of Reis. "There is something peculiar about it," I said to Antonio. "When I was a child, my mother used often to say that, before her father was called Reis, he had had another surname. But she didn't know what it was."

"Oh, Charles," he said abruptly, looking at me with a twinkle, "you're a Jew."

"Oh, I don't think so!" I said. "There's never been any suggestion of that."

"Oh, well, perhaps not then."

"Although, actually..." I said slowly, "another thing my mother used often to say when I was a child was that she and I had Jews' heads. She used often to point to our heads and say they were Jews' heads."

"Just as I told you. You're a Jew."

"Antonio, can it be possible? Can that really be possible?"

"Of course it can. It's the commonest thing in the world in Portugal."

"And, actually, so many people in my life have said to me that they thought I might be Jewish. Many years ago there was a guy called James who took one look at me and said, 'Presumably you're of the tribe of Abraham?'."

"Well, there you are then. But does the whole thing worry you?"

"No, no, of course it doesn't. I think it would be rather distinguished, actually."

"Well, that's good, because it's true. Enjoy your distinction, my dear Charles. Now I'm going off to the most terrible disco on my motor scooter."

And those were the comments I had to be content with from my abrupt, forthright and somewhat unconventional friend.    





















4 comments:

  1. Dear Sathya,

    I am so glad you enjoyed the current post and hope you will study my blog further. I cannot understand all the business about refrigerators but perhaps there is a reason for this.

    All the best,

    Charles

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Sathya,

    You seem to have sent exactly the same comment as before, and I have just noticed it now on 10th November although I look at the blog every day and your comment is dated 7th November. However, I do not understand the mysteries of human nature or technology and I am of course delighted that you like this post. Have you seen the very interesting previous one, "The beginning of the good years"?

    All the best,

    Charles

    ReplyDelete